Friday, February 28, 2014

The (Not So) Greatest Story Ever Told


A “Son of God” for the Faithful

By Skip Sheffield

The Bible and specifically the New Testament story of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have been perennial subjects of plays, books, music and movies.
The first movie on the life of Jesus Christ was the Cecil B. DeMille epic “King of Kings” in 1927.
The latest re-telling of “The greatest story ever told” is “Son of God,” distributed by 20th Century Fox.
“Son of God” is a pared down, less than two-hour version of the 10-hour History Channel mini-series “The Bible.” Directed and co-written by Christopher Spencer, “The Bible” proved the History Channel’s most successful series ever.
The cast is largely unknown by American audiences. It is lead by Portuguese actor-model Diogo Morgado. Like all of the more than a dozen cinematic Jesuses, Morgado is a really handsome man. However, Morgado the actor is no match for some previous film Jesuses, including Jim Caviezel in Mel Gibson’s controversial “The Passion of the Christ” and charismatic Ted Neeley in the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1973.
“Son of God” is considered by some an antidote to the perceived anti-Semitic “Passion of the Christ,” released ten years ago. “Son of God” even has an endorsement by Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman.
The bad news is that “Son of God” does not live up to the passion of its story. The acting is amateurish; the CG special effects obvious and the biblical Jerusalem sets fake-looking. I am well versed enough in The Bible that I knew what dialogue was coming next, starting with the opening excerpt from the Book of Genesis “In the beginning was The Word and The Word became flesh.”
“Son of God” is being marketing to church-going faithful, which makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of money in them there mega-churches. I just wonder what the Jesus who overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple would think?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Joe DiPietro and David Bryan Meet in "Memphis"


Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi Keyboardist David Bryan Met in “Memphis”

By Skip Sheffield

Joe DiPietro is one of those rare talents who hit a home run early in his career, than followed with an even more substantial hit.
DiPietro wrote the book and lyrics to “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” It was only DiPietro’s third published play, written with composer Jimmy Roberts, and his first one actually produced in 1996. The show ran for 12 years Off-Broadway, and has since become a staple of theaters all over the USA and Canada. It enabled him to be a full-time independent writer.
“Memphis The Musical” is another collaboration, this time with Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan.
“I gave my script to several rock ‘n’ roll managers because Memphis is about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and I wanted a real rocker,” he explains. “I got a call that said `Hi Joe, this is David Bryan. I’m the keyboardist for Bon Jovi and I just read your script. I’d like to know how I can write the score.”
DiPietro told Bryan to pick any lyric in the script, do whatever he’d like to it, and write a song.
DiPietro got a CD in a FedEx box the very next day. On it Bryan sang “Music of My Soul,” which introduces the main character of Huey Calhoun. DiPietro had found the right guy.
DiPietro kept sending Bryan drafts of the script, and Bryan would right new tunes in the spirit of roots rock, blues and gospel, and they would discuss back and forth.
Tony Award voters were so impressed they voted “Memphis” Best Musical of 2010, with Best Book and Best Songs. DiPietro feels it is the universality of “Memphis” that gives it such popular appeal.
“Music is an art that really shows our common humanity,” he states. “The birth of rock ‘n’ roll was a precursor to the Civil Rights movement. Dick Clark, who is mentioned in the show, made it acceptable for black artists to perform for white teenagers. We have come a long way with racial relations, but we still have a way to go.”

Making Music in "Memphis"


“Memphis” Brings “Music of the Soul” to Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Imagine if you will a world without rock ‘n’ roll music. That was mainstream America in the early 1950s.
“Memphis The Musical,” the rafter-raising Best Musical Tony Award-winner 2010 musical at Broward Center through March 9, imagines the events that changed that situation and brought black rhythm and blues and blues music to a larger white audience.
Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics) have crafted a musical fable about a white Memphis disc jockey who introduced black rhythm and blues to what had been a segregated radio market.
The prototypical wild and crazy disc jockey Huey Calhoun is loosely based on the real-life radio and television personality Dewey Phillips.
The fable has elements of history, romance, changing attitudes on racial segregation and a whole lot of gospel-fused and blues-based music.
Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose) is a high school dropout living with his mother (Pat Sibley) and working a menial job as stockboy at a Memphis department store.
Clumsy Huey quickly loses that job, but talks his angry boss into letting him spin some records in the store to promote greater sales. Huey spins a record from his own collection of rhythm and blues (“Scratch My Itch”) and celebrates the genre in the song “The Music of My Soul.” Despite selling a record 29 records at his first attempt, Huey gets fired anyway because his boss doesn’t like “race music.”
Huey loves “race music” so much he ventures into an all-black nightclub on Beale Street (“Underground”). The owner, Delray (RaMond Thomas) doesn’t cotton to white boys coming around, especially when they show a special interest in his little sister Felicia (Jasmin Richardson), who sings at the club.
A word about Jasmine Richardson: Fabulous. She is tall, gorgeous and svelte, and she has a voice as powerful as a locomotive.
It is no wonder that Huey thinks he can make Felicia a star, and no wonder he becomes smitten with her. This is a time when inter-racial romance is taboo and thereby lies the conflict of this romance.
Other cast standouts are hefty but agile janitor-turned-announcer Bobby (Jerrial T. Young), who is a significant gospel belter himself; and Avionce Hoyles as bartender Gator, who is mute through most of Act One then reveals an angelic tenor voice.
There is a crack band onstage to liven things up even more. If you aren’t moved by this music of the soul, you better check your pulse.
Tickets are $34.50 and up. Call 954-462-0222 or go to


Monday, February 24, 2014

Full Monty at Wick Theatre


“Full Monty” Fully Enjoyable at Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as the old says goes.
The phenomenon of male strip-teasing coincided with the rise of women’s liberation. Why should men have a monopoly on ogling the opposite sex?
And so began “Ladies Night Out.” Chippendale’s, the first and best-known of the male revues formed in 1979, was comprised mostly of professional dancers in prime physical condition.
The main joke of “The Fully Monty,” which began as a 1997 British film comedy set in the former steel town center of Sheffield, England, was that an ordinary bunch of blokes would go circumspect Chippendale’s one better by going the “full monty,” or completely naked.
“The Full Monty’ became a stage musical in 2000, with book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by David Yazbek. A locally-sourced version of the show is now in residence at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, through March 23.
If anything the stage version is an improvement over the movie. The book, by much-honored four-time Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally, is more compact and moving. The music, by David Yazbek (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) amplifies and improves upon the movie soundtrack.
The stage version has been Americanized and moved to another faded industrial town, Buffalo, New York. Michael Orozco plays the designated hunk, professional stripper Buddy “Keno” Walsh.
It is Orozco who gets the ladies going during the overture, strutting his stuff. The main character is Jerry Lukowski, an out-of-work steel mill worker played by Preston Ellis. Jerry is a rugged Everyman kind of guy driven to desperation by his financial situation. The rest of the male cast is various types. Reggie Whitehead is the smooth black dude. JP Sarro is the reluctant fatty. Barry Tarallo is the older guy with a beautiful voice.
“The Full Monty” has a large cast, half of whom are female. It’s fun watching the women playing audience members egging on the guys to take it off.
In the final analysis there is nothing obscene or even shocking about “The Fully Monty” under the direction of Dom Ruggiero. There is a reason it is called strip “tease.” If it’s a fun evening you seek with a wink and a nod, Wick Theatre’s “Full Monty” fills the bill.
Tickets are $58 general admission or $52 group. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, February 21, 2014

An Old-Fashioned, Bodice-Ripping "Meller-Drama"


“In Secret” An Old-Fashioned Melodrama

By Skip Sheffield

“In Secret” is an old-fashioned melodrama that answers the seldom-asked question, “What ever happened to Jessica Lange?”
The answer is the one-time King Kong hottie got older and is now playing a bitter old biddy with a devious niece in the Paris of 1860.
“In Secret” is based on the Emile Zola novel “Therese Raquin,” re-written for the screen by director Charlie Stratton.
Jessica Lange is Madame Raquin, aunt of Therese Raquin.
Therese was an illegitimate child abandoned by her father and dumped with her cold, unfeeling aunt after her mother died. Therese is played by Elizabeth Olsen, who is a bit too young and not sensuous enough for her role of femme fatale.
Madame Raquin has a sickly, doted-upon son named Camille, played by Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies.
Therese is pressed into a loveless marriage of convenience with Camille, who remains under the thumb of his domineering mother.
When Camille gets a job in Paris, both mom and Therese come with him.
In Paris Camille welcomes his childhood friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac of “Inside Llewyn Davis”) to his family. Laurent is everything Camille is not: dashing, handsome and smolderingly sexy.
It doesn’t take long for Therese to become smitten with seductive Laurent. So begins a passionate affair right under the nose of Madame Raquin and her clueless son.
Therese masks her afternoon trysts with “terrible migraine” headaches which confine her to her bedroom.
“I don’t know how to make her happy,” Camille whines to his mother.
When Camille decides to assert himself and insists they leave the “filthy city” of Paris, Laurent and Therese conspire to take drastic action.
Because the love scenes fail to generate the desired heat, it is much more fun to watch the gradual disintegration of Madame Raquin, as Jessica Lange pulls out all the stops in over-acting into madness and catatonia. Lange, who turns 65 on April 20, is the most enjoyable part of an otherwise uninteresting, overwrought, costumed period piece.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Israel From an Occupied Palestine View


A Glimpse Inside Occupied Palestine

We don’t get many Palestinian films in these parts. “Omar” is the Best Foreign Film nominee for Palestine at this year’s Academy Awards. Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad's controversial 2006 film “Paradise Now” was about suicide bombers. “Omar” is about the equally thorny problem of life in the Occupied Territories of Israel.
Omar (Adam Bakri) is a Palestinian baker who routinely scales a tall separation wall to visit his girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubany). Pretty Nadja is still in school, but Omar is so smitten he wants to marry her- the sooner the better.
Nadia’s older brother Tarek (Eyad Hourani) is a fiery Palestinian “freedom fighter” who is also Omar’s best friend, as is fellow childhood friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat).
The guys act innocent by day, but by night they go out hunting the hated Israeli soldiers who enforce the law. One night one of the men kills an Israeli soldier. Everything immediately turns life-and-death serious.
“Jasoos” is an Arab word that means “traitor,” but in the volatile Israel-Palestine conflict it is something much worse than mere betrayal. Israel’s Shin Bet, which is kind of like their FBI, relies on jasoos to spill the beans on terrorist activity.
Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) is the Shin Bet handler assigned to Omar. If Omar or his friends do not rat, Rami is not doing his job.
In essence everyone is doing their job. It’s just that everything is at murderous cross purposes. It’s a lose-lose situation, and unless something is resolved, the eternal conflict between Israel and Palestine will remain just that: eternal.
It comes as no surprise “Omar” won Best Film at the Dubai Film Festival, but it also won “Un Certain Regard” at Cannes in recognition of its deft, yes even entertaining handling of a tragic, confounding situation.


No Expiration Date on Romance


It’s Never Too Late To Love Again

By Skip Sheffield

It’s not easy being single again, not matter what your age or where you live.
“Gloria” is a film from Chile. The title character is a woman of “a certain age;” in this case probably mid-50s.
Paula Garcia, who won the Silver Bear Best Actress Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, plays Gloria, a woman divorced for 12 years and still looking.
Gloria is an outgoing woman who works at an office in Santiago. At night she gets dressed up and goes to dance clubs. Gloria is still attractive. She loves to dance. She gets hit on a lot and seems to enjoy the attention. Then one night she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a tall, handsome man about her same age. He is a retired naval office who owns an amusement park. It’s one of those love-at-first-sight moments, and it’s not long until Gloria and Rodolfo are head over heels and rolling in each other’s arms.
Written and directed by Sebastian Lelio, “Gloria” is unabashedly sexy, and Paula Garcia is not afraid to bare her all. Her character however, is less certain of the passion she feels for a man who may not feel the same. Rodolfo has only been divorced a year, and his life his still dominated by his ex-wife and three demanding daughters.
“Gloria” is funny, especially when she challenges Rodolfo. It is also melancholy when things don’t turn out as hoped.
“Gloria” is never a downer though. It offers the upbeat hope that passion never dies as long as you stay open to the prospect.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Catskills Boot Camp for Comedy

 Pictured: Sid Caesar

New York’s Catskill Comedians Celebrated

By Skip Sheffield

The golden era of the Catskills may be over in New York, but the spirit of the great Jewish resorts continues here in South Florida in the form of the comedians who got their start in the Catskills and went on to become big stars and continue to tour.
“When Comedy Went to School” is a 77-minute documentary film that examines the phenomenon of Jewish comedians. Through archival footage and contemporary interviews with such greats as Jerry Lewis, Jerry Stiller, Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen, Larry King and a very young Jerry Seinfield, the film answers the question, Why are there so many Jewish comedians?
Robert Klein serves as host of this semi-academic examination of the roots of Jewish and Yiddish comedy.
“Comedy is a Jewish survival mechanism,” explains filmmaker, comedian and playwright Mel Brooks. "You laugh to survive."
“The Catskills were some place to be bad,” says Jerry Lewis, who goes on to relate how we performed with his parents as a child to earn the family an extra $5 a night. Lewis began his career as a Catskill “tummler” who performed pratfalls. It was a skill that came in handy in his comedy films with Dean Martin and on his own.
The first Catskill “resort” was a simple farmhouse owned by a family named Grossinger, who began taking in guests in 1914. At its peak in the 1950s, the Catskill resort area had over 500 hotels. Now there are just a handful left. Television, cheap, fast travel and the Internet all contributed to the decline of this “comedy boot camp.” This film provides a nostalgic look back at the beginnings of comedians who have become household names. I was amazed to realize how many of the comedians I have interviewed and met, because South Florida and its condos and performing arts centers are a regular stop for comedians who continue to perform into very old age.
The film can be seen at Living Room Theaters and Shadowood in Boca Raton and Movies of Delray.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Once" and Always


 Dublin Party Time in Miami

By Skip Sheffield

They are throwing a big Irish pub party through Sunday, Feb. 9 at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami. It is well worth the trip.
“Once” is based upon the movie of the same name. The small-budget Irish musical romance was my favorite movie of 2007. What made it so special was that the music was written by the two stars, who fell in love during screening.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are no longer a couple but their fairy tale romance lives on in the movie, directed by John Carney, and in the stage show, directed by John Tiffany with book by Edna Walsh.
You know right away “Once” is a different kind of show, because the action begins before the show proper. The stage is set up as an Irish bar populated with singing, dancing musicians. The audience is invited climb up onstage and mingle with the musicians and even order a drink from a functioning bar.
In the transition from movie to stage show there were several changes in the characters known simply as Guy (Stuart Ward) and Girl (Dani de Waal). Czech-born Marketa Irglova was only 17 when the movie was filmed. Irishman Glen Hansard was twice her age. The Girl is some years older than Irglova, closer in age to the Guy. As in the movie she has a daughter, but in the stage show she is older than the movie’s toddler.
The Guy has a girl who has left him, but she has gone off to New York, not London.
The Guy expresses his lovelorn vulnerable stage in his first song, “Leaving.”
British singer-musician Stuart Ward has a beautiful singing voice and very fine acoustic guitar technique.
Dani de Waal is also London-trained, and like Marketa Irglova she plays piano while singing in exquisite close harmony with Stuart Ward the Academy Award-winning theme song “Falling Slowly.”
The wonderful thing about this production is that every character sings, plays an instrument and performs closely choreographed moves. The Guy’s Da (father) is played by bewhiskered Raymond Bokhour who plays a mean mandolin. There are two lady fiddlers (Erica Swindell and Claire Wellin); multi-instrumentalist Evan Harrington, who plays the hot-headed shop owner Billy; an accordion-playing mother of the Girl (Donna Garner), a cello and guitar-playing bank manager (Benjamin Magnuson) and an all-purpose guy named Svec (Matt DeAngelis) who plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums and percussion.
With such a simple plot line, the play seemed padded over the movie, but if you love playing, singing, dancing and precision interaction, you should appreciate the eight Tony Award-winning Best Musical “Once’ as much as I did.
Tickets start at $26. Call 305-949-6722 or visit

Monday, February 3, 2014

We are not what we seem.


“Old Times” Forces You to Think

By Skip Sheffield

It was Superbowl Sunday. I decided to do a profoundly un-Big Game thing: I went to see Harold Pinter’s “Old Times” at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. The play continues through March 2.
I never watched the Big Game, but I sure am glad I saw “Old Times.”
The thoroughly British, 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Harold Pinter is a “difficult” playwright. His dialogue is spare, enigmatic, contradictory and sometimes just baffling. His 1971 work “Old Times” is one of his most baffling, yet brilliant pieces. Some critics have described Pinter’s genre as “comedy with menace.” Certainly there is menace along with some laughs in this three-character play about a married couple and a friend of the wife who comes to visit after 20 years away.
The play begins in the parlor of the couple’s converted farmhouse on the west coast of England. Deeley (Craig Wroe) asks his wife Kate (Shannon Koob) about her long-lost friend.
“She was my best friend,” Kate explains. “She was my only friend.”
“If you have only one of something, you can’t say it’s the best of anything,” Deeley counters.
And so it continues with seemingly trivial small talk about the casserole Kate is cooking and the impending arrival of the mysterious guest.
Anna (Pilar Witherspoon), who like Kate is in her early 40s, is a much more talkative, outgoing person than Anna. The small talk continues. Deeley recalls he met Anna at a movie theater that was showing “Odd Man Out.” That title will take on added significance by play’s end, when we learn some things said by Deeley, Kate and Anna are simply not true. As Pinter himself says, “A thing is not necessarily true or false; it can be both true and false.”
“Old Times” is performed without intermission in just one hour, 15 minutes. A set change is performed onstage in full view, as the parlor becomes an upstairs bedroom. Director J. Barry Lewis has cast three extraordinary professionals with most impressive credentials to play the sketchy, under-written characters. The power of the play is conveyed by the interior emotions of the characters, which is up to the actor to convey. My guest was a woman in her early 30s. She was as fascinated with the real meaning of the play as I was. We both came to pretty much the same conclusion, but the wonder of Pinter is that everything is up for debate. If you want a play that makes you think “out of the box,” this show’s for you.
Tickets are $60. Call 561-514-4012 or go to