Monday, November 30, 2015

A Disturbing, Claustrophobic "Room"


Locked in a “Room”

By Skip Sheffield

Claustrophobic? Be wary of “Room,” for much of it is set in a windowless 10-by-10-foot shed. The only portal to the outside world is an overhead skylight.
This room constitutes the entire world for 5-year-old Jack (Jason Tremblay) whose mother (Brie Larson), known as Ma, has been locked in the shed for seven years by a character known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). The creepy story has been adopted for the screen by Emma Donoghue, who wrote the acclaimed novel on which it is based. Old Nick visits sporadically with food and presumably sleeps with Ma while Jack is locked away in a wardrobe. Despite their confined existence, Ma does her best to entertain, educate, feed and clean Jack. Jack on the other hand has no clue there is more to life than the room.
Irish director Lenny Abrahamson maintains a delicate balance between horror and hope when the story switches gears with a daring escape engineered by Ma. You might think happy ending, but Ma is clearly affected by post-traumatic stress syndrome, and her parents (Joan Allen and William Macy) don’t quite understand.
As amazing as Brie Larson is in her role of a wounded mama lioness, Jason Tremblay is a wonder as Jack, who is pretty as a girl with his shoulder-length hair that he does not want cut, and has amazing depths of emotion and expression. I suspect both Ma and Jack will be remembered at Oscar nomination time. “Room” is that extraordinary.

Symphonia Boca Raton Begins 10th Season


A Triumphant Tenth Season for Symphonia Boca Raton

By Skip Sheffield

How fortunate that Boca Raton music lovers have our very own world-class chamber orchestra. It's known as The Symphonia Boca Raton, and it provides a pleasing blend of classics and contemporary music.
The Symphonia Boca Raton is celebrating its tenth season. Thanks to loyal support from classical music lovers, it stands to be around at least another ten years. The first Connoisseur Concerts of the season will be presented Dec. 4-6 under the guest direction of Alastair Willis.
As an historical footnote, there was a previous symphony orchestra in Boca Raton, which merged with the Fort Lauderdale Philharmonic Orchestra to become the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. Sadly the Florida Philharmonic bowed out in 2003 amid insurmountable financial difficulties.
Operating a classical orchestra is expensive, but Boca Symphonia was founded in 2004 on a sound business model by Marshall Turkin and Martin B. Coyne; both music professionals, with FPO principal trumpet Jeffrey Kaye as manager (and now artistic director). They enlisted the help of generous philanthropists Edith and Martin Stein for seed money and continuing support. The result is an orchestra that apart from its four Connoisseur Concert Season plays Festival of Arts Boca. It accompanies the Master Chorale of South Florida, and performs community concerts sponsored by the City of Boca Raton. An outreach program provides education for young people.
The December Connoisseur Weekend begins with an 11:30 Friday Dec. 4 Box lunch with the Symphonia at the Unitarian Congregation, 2601 St. Andrews Blvd. The Allegro Society sponsorship offers music lovers a sample of the Symphonia’s rehearsal and conversations with the musicians and guest artists. Grammy-nominated Alastair Willis, currently Music Director of the Illinois Symphony, returns as guest conductor. Willis will speak about the concert, which features Kodaly, Mozart and Beethoven in a “Gypsy Airs” program. The box lunch cost is $35, or all four box lunches for $100.
Saturday, Dec. 5 is a special day for children and their families, with an opportunity to interact with the conductor and musicians starting at 10:30 a.m. in the intimate, acoustically excellent Roberts Theatre of St. Andrew’s School, 3900 Jog Road. Admission is free for children and just $5 for adults.
The main event is the 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6 Connoisseur Concert at Roberts Theatre. The soloist is violinist Charles Weatherbee of the University of Colorado, Boulder and first violin of the Carpe Diem String Quartet. He will be featured on Mozart’s Violin Concert No. 5, A major. Beethoven’ Symphony No. 7, A major, op. 92 will be played. Mozart’s Violin Concerto should be familiar to most. Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly is less familiar, but he is a major name in classical music, having devised his own method of education. His “Dances of Galanta” will be performed.
Subsequent Connoisseur Concerts will be presented Jan. 8-10 with conductor and soloist David Kim, violin for a program of Bach, Pachebel and Piazzola. The Feb. 5-7 Connoisseur weekend features guest conductor Carolyn Kuan and piano soloist Alexandre Moutouzkine performing Copland, Poulenc, Faure and the ever-popular Mozart. Finally March 18-20 welcomes returning guest conductor Gerard Schwartz and famed piano soloist Misha Dichter performing Beethoven, Ives and Mendelssohn.
Season subscriptions range from $150 to $250. Single tickets are $45-$75. Call 866-687-1201 or go to

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sweet and Sour "Wonders" and "Legend"

"The Wonders" (above) "Legend" top

Two Wildly Different Thanksgiving Imports

By Skip Sheffield
In this busy Thanksgiving Weekend for new movies we have two wildly different imports.
“The Wonders” is a lovely, wistful Italian film set in beautiful Tuscany. Winner of the 2014 Cannes Festival Grand Prix, “The Wonders” tells the story, written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, of a family of beekeepers trying to make a living on a small remote farm, living in a crumbling old house with a husband and wife, four daughters, a babysitter and later a houseguest; a sullen young teenage German boy the family is being paid to care for.
Caring for bees and collecting honey is not easy work, and the whole enterprise is being threatened by neighboring farmers who put toxic weedkiller on their fields, which poisons bees when they collect pollen. Father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) is not a native Italian, but he clings to the idea of a pure, simple life in once remote Tuscany. The world is rapidly intruding. Some of the neighbors are selling out by creating bed-and-breakfasts and catering to tourists. A further intrusion comes with the cast and crew of a reality TV show called “Countryside Wonders,” hosted by a star named Milly Catena (real-life Italian movie star Monica Bellucci). The producers have created a contest to motivate residents with a large cash prize and starring role in the show. Though dad is dead set against the idea, eldest daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra) contacts the producer anyway, with the tacit permission of her discontented mother Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher).
Martin (Luis Huilca), the 15-year-old German boy the family has agreed to take in, is there on a trial basis. He has been in trouble with the law and if he doesn’t straighten out he will go to reform school.
Everything comes to a head with the live taping of the “Countryside Wonders” show. It is not a happily-ever-after fairy tale but a reflection of the reality of changing life in rural Italy.

A Violent, Nasty “Legend”

“Legend” is a violent, nasty, at times repellent movie about the real-life 1960s London gangsters, the Kray twins.
In a bit of trick casting, British actor Tom Hardy plays both identical yet distinctively different twins under the direction of American writer-director Brian Helgeland. Helgeland, who directed the rough-and-tumble “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River,” adapted his script from Jon Pearson’s book “The Profession of Violence.”
Ronald and Reggie Kray were born in 1933 and bred in the mean streets of cockney East London. They rose to fame first as boxers, and their fisticuffs came in handy when they entered a life of crime. There are two fundamental differences in the brothers that help us tell them apart. Ronald wears glasses, and more important is a “poof,” or homosexual. Reggie does not wear glasses and prefers women. In fact he falls in love and eventually marries a lovely lass named Frances (Australian actress Emily Browning).
Though we see alarming examples of the brothers’ hair-trigger tempers and extreme violence, they insist they are not gangsters but club owners. In fact the Krays did own a London club called Esmeralda Barn, which became a hangout for celebrities and slumming aristocrats. “Legend” reveals the hypocrisy beneath the “swinging 60s” tailored fashions and polite manners, noting that aristocrats and politicians had a lot in common with gangsters.
As the Krays fame and wealth grew, so did their arrogance and recklessness. We see key murders in gruesome detail, and the increasingly deranged behavior of the brothers, particularly Ronald. It became inevitable that they would be taken down, and they are by dogged Superintendent “Nipper” Read (Christopher Eccleston).
As much as I admire the bravura and virtuosity of actor Tom Hardy, “Legend” is a repellent, hard-to-take movie. If violence is you cup of tea, this is your hemlock.

Two and a half stars

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Yo, Yo Rocky is Back


Rocky is Back as a Trainer

By Skip Sheffield

Yo Rocky! Good to have you back in Philly and movie theaters everywhere.
“Creed” is a continuation of the rags-to-riches Rocky Balboa boxing fable, but this seventh in a series begun in 1976 is the first one not written by Sylvester Stallone and not having him boxing in the ring.
This is a good thing, because Stallone is now 69 years old, and it would a bit of a stretch seeing him still fighting as a professional boxer. Instead he is a coach, not unlike Burgess Meredith in the first “Rocky” picture. His protégé is Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of the late Rocky nemesis-turned-friend Apollo Creed.
Director and writer Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) has brought the Rocky Balboa saga into a new generation. Michael Jordan, who was in “Fruitvale Station,” is one good-looking actor, and he does some convincing boxing moves, made all  the more effective by the amazing makeup that makes him appear beat-up after battling brutish British boxer “Pretty Ricky” Conlan (Tony Bellew).
Rocky Balboa has retired from the ring in order to run Adrian’s restaurant, named after his beloved late wife. Rocky is easy enough to find, but it takes some convincing by Adonis to get him back in the game as a trainer.
Adonis has a love interest of his own in the form of nightclub singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who happens to be coping with a hearing loss.

I am no fan of boxing. To me it’s like watching a car wreck unfold before my eyes. I do like underdog stories though, and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is a classic American underdog story. So “Creed” delivers the goods, though there is nothing new here. It could have been called “Rocky VII,” but that would not be accurate. This movie shows Stallone accepting the inevitable. No matter what great shape he is in, he is a senior citizen, and Stallone plays him with pride and dignity.

The Dinosaur King


A Dinosaur King

By Skip Sheffield

Picture “The Lion King” taking place in the Dinosaur Age and you get the gist of “The Good Dinosaur.”
This is a sweet computer-animated fable about bravery from Disney Pixar Studios, directed by Peter Sohn (“Monsters University,” “The Incredibles”) with screenplay by Meg LeFaure, who gave us the lovely “Inside Out.”
The story begins 65 million years ago, with an asteroid barreling toward Earth. Instead of striking Earth, which in theory exterminated the dinosaurs, the asteroid sails past Earth and life goes on. We move a few million years later to meet a family of Apatosaurus. Poppa (voice of Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) await the hatching of three eggs. Young Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla) hatches first out of the smallest egg. Next comes Young Buck (Ryan Teeple) a rambunctious male. Finally out of the largest egg hatches the tiniest Apatosaurus, named Arlo (Jack McGraw as a juvenile, Raymond Ochoa as an adolescent).
Arlo is the smallest, weakest and most fearful of the three siblings. In this prehistoric fantasy, dinosaurs till the soil, plant corn and store it in a silo from marauding “critters.”
Poppa is convinced Arlo has the right stuff, so he takes him on a mission to teach him courage. As in “Lion King” the father figure perishes, in this cause during a flood, leaving the son alone, lost and afraid.
So begins a picaresque journey in which Arlo meets all manner of prehistoric creatures, some cute and cuddly, some funny, and some terrifying. The “critter” who had been raiding Arlo’s family farm is a humanoid who thinks he’s a wolf. Originally an adversary, Spot, as Arlo calls him, becomes his best friend and helps him find his way back home.
The animation is so sharp and beautiful it is hard to tell if some of the backdrop scenery isn’t real. The various creatures are voiced by an A-list cast that includes deep-voiced Sam Elliott as the alpha T-Rex Buck; Jack Bright as the mostly howling voice of Spot, Steve Zahn as Thunderclap and John Ratzenberger as Earl.

The optimistic message of “The Good Dinosaur” is that even a runty, puny individual can rise up and find his courage. I can agree with that. I was the “runt of the litter” in my family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Newsies" Delivers at Broward Center


Read All About “Newsies” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Newspapers are fading as an American institution, but the memories linger.
Disney’s “Newsies,” running through Nov. 29 at Broward Center for the Arts, is set during newspapers’ peak of popularity in 1899. It started as a movie in 1992 and was turned into an acclaimed Broadway musical in 2012.
The Broadway Across America show playing Fort Lauderdale is a song and dance spectacular with one of the most spectacular sets I’ve even seen at Broward Center. The set is a kind of giant three-story Erector set, with three components that revolve.
The story of “Newsies” by Harvey Fierstein is its least important component. Fierstein adapted the 1992 movie for the stage, with additional music by Alan Menkin and Jack Feldman. It was inspired by the real-life newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City. Newspaper hawkers rebelled when powerful publisher Joseph Pulitzer raised the price of a bundle of 100 newspapers from 50 cents to 60 cents.
I totally related to this premise because I was a newsboy myself as a 12-year-old. Those pennies add up.
Playing the lead role of alpha newsboy Jack Kelly is Miami native Joey Barreiro. Playing the beta newsboy role of crippled orphan Crutchie is Zachary Sayle. Ambitious, crusading reporter Katherine Plumber is played by adorable Morgan Keene. The black hat role of Joseph Pulitzer is played by Steve Blanchard.
We think of Pulitzer as a good guy now because of the prize that is named after him, but when he was alive he was a ruthless, domineering boss. In this fable Jack Kelly stands up to Pulitzer and ultimately wins his respect.
But as I stated, the story is the least important part of this show. What is important is the incredible athletic dances performed by the news boys. These guys defy gravity and physical limitations. If you have ever been a dancer yourself (I have), you will be impressed.
So for a good time, check out “Newsies” in its limited time in Fort Lauderdale. I think it will be worth your while.
Tickets are $30-$100. Call TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or 954-462-0222 or go to

Martin Barre Plays Jethro Tull at Arts Garage


Grammy Award-winning Guitarist Martin Barre Plays Arts Garage

By Skip Sheffield

Martin Barre is “Thick as a Brick” and proud of it. The former Jethro Tull lead guitarist brings his own group to the Arts Garage, 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.
Barre’s signature guitar playing was as much a part of Jethro Tull’s sound as was Ian Anderson’s vocals and flute playing. Coincidentally Barre plays flute, and began his career as a professional sax player in England.
“Yes, I worked for a couple years as a saxophonist, and I also play flute, mandolin and bouzouki,” he said by telephone from England. “I am quite familiar with Florida and Delray Beach. It should be quite an original evening. It will be a 50-50 split between the Jethro Tull catalog and my songs.”
Prior to coming to Delray Beach, Barre and his group will be performing on a classic rock cruise to the Bahamas, headlined by fellow British platinum rockers Yes.
“We are playing just one show on the cruise,” Barre reveals. “I wish we were playing more.”
Barre’s current group consists of Barre, Dan Crisp on vocals acoustic guitar and bouzouki, George Lindsay on drums and Alan Thomson on bass.
Martin Barre performed for 43 years with Jethro Tull. The group stopped touring in 2012 and called it quits in 2014.
“There was never an official recognition of an end” says Barre. “I am happy where I am, doing my solo tour. Ian Anderson has his solo tour. It’s always an open book. The sheer weight of the Jethro Tull catalog is enough for a lifetime. I’ll never play as well as I want to, but I will always keep trying.”
The Martin Barre concert is sold-out, but there could be some returns or no-shows. Call 561-450-6357 or go to

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Meet Morgan Keene

Morgan Keene and Joey Barreiro

“Newsies” at Broward Center Nov. 17-29

By Skip Sheffield

Extra, extra, read all about it. “Newsies” opens Tuesday, Nov. 17 and continues through Sunday, Nov. 29 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This is the first time the 2012 Tony award-winning Broadway hit has played in Broward County, though it did play Miami’s Arsht Center a year ago.
Inspired by the real-life New York Newsboy Strike of 1899, “Newsies” was first a 1992 Disney musical movie. The stage version has a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman. The Fort Lauderdale engagement features Joey Barrelo as alpha newsboy Jack Kelly and Morgan Keene as crusading reporter (and love interest) Katherine Plumber and Steve Blanchard as newspaper titan Joseph Pulitzer.
Morgan Keene has been in the female lead role of Katherine just six months, but it fulfills a life ambition.
“I didn’t know much about the musical and I didn’t even see the movie, but I was fortunate to have a long time to rehearse,” said Keene by telephone.  “Joey is fantastic to work with. He is beautiful and he has a beautiful voice. We had the opportunity to bond during rehearsal.”
Katherine Keene’s Cinderella story began when she was in sixth grade in Atlanta, where she played both the title character and the Candy Man in a school production of “Willy Wonka.” When her family moved to Spokane, Washington, Keene joined a community theater group and began to see musical theater as a career.
“I was hooked,” she admits. “I had no clue I could do musical theater as a career. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
In regional theater Keene has performed in “Next To Normal,” “Grease,” “happy days,” “Annie” and “The Sound of Music.” She is eager to make her Fort Lauderdale debut.
“I have a lot of family in Florida, so I have visited,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ve been to Fort Lauderdale. I’m just happy to be part of such a great show.”
Shows are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $35. Call 800-745-3000 or go to

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Tough Musical Called "Dogfight"

Alexander Zenoz and Hannah Benitez

A Tough “Dogfight”; Actually a Love Story

By Skip Sheffield

“Dogfight” is not an easy show to like. The Slow Burn Theatre production runs through Nov. 29 in the Abdo Room of Broward Center for the Arts.
The very premise of the story by Peter Duchan is not pleasant. A group of U.S. Marines are letting off steam on an evening in 1963 before they are shipped off to Vietnam. They decide to play a little game. The men dare each other to find the ugliest woman he can find. After paying a $50 entrance fee, contestants are asked to take out that ugly woman. She will then be judged on her ugliness by the other men. The man with the ugliest woman wins the pot.
 Slow Burn has made a name for itself by presenting new and challenging material. “Dogfight” is both, but it is hard to embrace this tale of misogynist cruelty.
However, the heart of this show is a romance between one of the Marines and the “ugly” girl he chooses,
Actress and singer Hannah Benitez is not ugly at all. In fact her character of Rose Fenny is quite lovely, with a beautiful voice to match.
The Marine Eddie Birdlace (Alexander Zenoz) likewise has a lovely voice and a winning way, and thereby lies the saving grace of “Dogfight.”
The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is unremarkable. There is no “Some Enchanted Evening” in the lot. The songs describe and advance the action, but they are immediately forgettable.
The supporting cast of players under the direction and choreography of Patrick Fitzwater is quite excellent, with familiar Slow Burn names from their time in west Boca Raton. Mike Westrich plays the second banana alpha male, Bernstein. Rick Pena (who also designed the costumes), Christian Vandepas, Brian Varlea and Cameron Jordan are fellow Marines. The other “ugly girls” are Kaitlyn O’Neill, Alexa Baray and Sabrina Lynn Gore. No, not one of them is actually ugly.
I have mixed feelings about the United States Marines. I admire their bravery and physical fitness. On the other hand I endured the worst beating in my life by a Marine on leave from Vietnam. He called me a “long-head bastard” (I had long, curly blond hair) and proceeded to attack me with what seemed like an intent to kill. I was a physically unfit 4-F, so I never went to Vietnam.  I had many friends who did, and it seems none of them survived unscathed.
Tickets are $45. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sons of Monsters


Hostvon Wachter and Niklas Frank

A “Nazi Legacy” Condemned And Denied

By Skip Sheffield

What happens to the children of monstrous mass murderers?
That is the question asked by the documentary “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.”
Directed by David Evans (“The Robber Bride”), “Fathers” was written by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, who appears onscreen as the interviewer of Niklas Frank and Host von Wachter. Both are sons of high-ranking Nazi officials in eastern Europe. The men could not be more different. Frank denounced his father, who was Governor of Poland, 30 years previously and wrote the book “In The Shadow of the Reich.” Horst von Wachter, whose father did his dirty work in the Ukraine, remembers his father as loving and optimistic and his childhood being loving and pleasant. Not only does Horst refuse to denounce his father, he cannot bring himself to admit any wrongdoing on his part.
As the trio visits Poland and the Ukraine and they see the mute evidence of Nazi destruction, Sands becomes increasingly frustrated at Horst's denials. At a public debate in London Sands grills Horst to no avail.

“Fathers” proves that some people do not learn from mistakes of the past. The Holocaust cannot be forgotten, even if some people try to deny it.

"Love the Coopers" Not So Much


“Love The Coopers” a Christmas Fable

By Skip Sheffield

It’s getting to be that time of year when Christmas-themed movies appear. “Love The Coopers” is a dysfunctional family Christmas fable with an A-list cast that includes Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin.
Diane Keaton and John Goodman are Charlotte and Sam, a Pittsburgh couple married 40 years. They have traditionally hosted a big family Christmas Eve dinner, but this year tension is in the air. In fact Charlotte and Sam are thinking of calling it quits, but Charlotte in particular wants to carry on the Christmas tradition as if nothing was wrong.
Marisa Tomei is Charlotte’s younger sister Emma. The sisters have had a rocky relationship all their lives, and it has gotten worse with age. Early in the story Emma tries to steal a brooch and is arrested by solemn Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie).
Ed Helms is son Hank, recently divorced from Angie (Alex Borstein). Daughter Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) is unhappily working as a waitress at a diner, and even her grandfather Bucky (Alan Arkin) can’t cheer her up. Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) is showing early signs of dementia. Unmarried daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who has been carrying on an affair with a married man, has a chance meeting at the airport with a friendly soldier named Joe (Jake Lacy), whom she recruits to pretend to be her fiancé. Filling out the table are assorted grandchildren.

Director Jessie Nelson (“I Am Sam”) previously worked with screenwriter Steven Rogers on “Step Mom.” The story is amusingly narrated by the family dog, voiced by Steve Martin. Director Nelson tries to walk the fine line between comedy and pathos, but “Love The Coopers” isn’t very funny yet very sentimental. Every director dreams of creating a Christmas classic like “Miracle on 34th Street” or “White Christmas,” but this is not one of them.

Need Inspiration?


Short on Inspiration? Try “My All American”

By Skip Sheffield

Every so often we get an inspirational sports movie. For this year we have “My All American,” based on the book “Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story.”
Freddie Steinmark was a Colorado kid who was considered too small to play football. Nevertheless his strong will and determination was so fierce he became a star player on his Wheat Ridge High School team. Ultimately he was discovered by legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal, who arranged for him to play for UT on a full scholarship.
Freddie Steinmark is played by stage actor Finn Wittrock, who like his character is inordinately handsome. Freddie was charismatic and attractive to the opposite sex, but he was also a devoutly religious Catholic, and when he met Linda Wheeler (Irish actress Sarah Bolger), he became devoted solely to her.
Coach Darrell Royal is played by veteran character actor Aaron Eckhart, who plays him as tough but compassionate.
Writer-director Angelo Pizzo has two previous successful inspirational sports movies: “Hoosiers” in 1986 and “Rudy’ in 1993. Pizzo understands how to build excitement even when the outcome is already known. Playing Freddie’s best friend James Street is actor Juston Street. Street replaced U Texas hotshot quarterback “Super Bill” Bradley (Donny Boaz) to lead Texas to a 1969 national championship and a victory over Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl.

In addition to the inspiration of a little guy rising above his physical limitations, Freddie Steinmark faced an even greater challenge involving his health, and it was his courage and determination that gives “My All American” its real heart. If you are running short on inspiration, this little film should recharge you. If you are a cynic it won't matter

Monday, November 9, 2015

A "Hello Dolly" for a Gender-Nonspecific Age


A “Hello, Dolly!” for a New Age at Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton has made history by presenting a man, actor-director Lee Roy Reams, in the lead female role of the beloved 1964 Jerry Herman musical “Hello Dolly!,” which runs through Dec. 6 at 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
The immediate question is why? As talented as he is, Lee Roy Reams is unmistakably a man, and a tall one at that. Reams is half a head taller than Lewis J. Stadlen’s Horace Vandergelder. Nevertheless theater producer Marilynn Wick says that Jerry Herman himself has given his blessing to let Broadway veteran Reams play the role.
Horace Vandergelder you may remember is the “half-millionaire” late 19th century Yonkers merchant on whom widow Dolly Levi has set her matrimonial sights. Matchmaker Dolly has set up Horace with winsome young widow and milliner Irene Malloy (Susan Powell), but Irene is more naturally attracted to a man closer to her age; Horace’s hard-working assistant, Cornelius Hackl (James Clow). Cornelius has a weepy niece Ermengarde (Molly Anne Ross) who has a thing for Cornelius Hackl’s junior clerk, Barnaby Tucker (Jason Edward Cook).
In short, romance is in the air, everywhere in the Michael Stewart book, adopted from Thornton Wilder’s 1938 story “The Matchmaker.” Jerry Herman’s score is one of the best-loved parade of songs in American musical theater history, balancing comic novelty songs (“I Put My hand In,” “It Takes A Woman”) with tender ballads (“Ribbons Down My Back,” “It Only Takes a Moment”).
The unmistakably female Miss America 1981, Susan Powell, performs an especially moving “Ribbons Down My Back,” and she harmonizes beautifully with James Clow on the best love song, “It Only Takes a Moment.”
The large cast of “Hello, Dolly!’ is uniformly excellent and most beautifully costumed. The instrumentation, which was originally to be live, was changed at the last minute to pre-recorded. Once my original skepticism was overcome, I was able to fully enjoy this classic show. I have seen old Dollies, young Dollies, white Dollies and black Dollies. Now I’ve seen a male Dolly, and I must admit he/she becomes quite endearing.

Tickets are $70-$80.  Call 561-9952333 or go to

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A New Theater Group at Willow Theater


A New Deal at Willow Theater

By Skip Sheffield

Boca Raton has a new theater group, and its first production of a three-play season, “Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant,” plays through Nov. 15 at the Willow Theater of Sugar Sand Park.
The producer is The Playground Group LLC, whose home base is the Glades Road Branch Library. The playwright is local resident Tom Andrew, who also built the elaborate set pieces. The director is Joyce Sweeney, assisted by David Erlich.
As the title indicates, the play is a series of five scenes set in the Xu Shin Chinese Restaurant. We never see Mr. Shin but we do see his portrait and hear his wise words from famous thinkers as a preface to each scene. The cast is large (15) and diverse, skewing to an older demographic.
In the first scene we see three women and a man seated at their table, deeply engrossed in their handheld devices. A younger man Artie (Daniel Gil) makes his entrance carrying a bag. He apologizes for being late, but no one even looks up from their computer toys. The gag is no one ever acknowledges Artie even though he has brought expensive gifts for each one of them. Such is life in the plugged-in, tuned-out 21st century.
The second scene is called “The Skeptic.” That would be a grump played by George Wentzler, who doesn’t believe in a higher power, good luck and certainly not the predictions inside fortune cookies. In this funny vignette, George’s four female friends (Maja Nile, Teresa Biber LoMonte and Darcy Hernandez) show how wrong he is.
Scene three is the bittersweet 25th wedding anniversary of a couple (Brian Dever and Fran Friedman), which is the most emotional and poignant segment of the show.
The fourth scene and my favorite is called “The Early Birds,” for it is so Boca and so true. Four senior citizens (Don Grimme, Peter Hawkins, Penny Mandel and Elayne Wilks) have come to Xu Shin for its 5-7 p.m. $12.95 Early Bird Special of dinner and a bottle of beer with refill privileges. Peter Hawkins wears a plastic oxygen mask that makes him impossible to understand and lugs a large oxygen canister on wheels. The ever-patient hostess (Robin Alexander) smiles unfailingly as the loutish elders make is clear they don’t want to spend a penny more than $12.95, and they intend to get the most for their money. Sadly this goes on all the times at all-you-can-eat buffets, bit it is also the funniest bit.
The final scene features two couples (Jill Brown and Fran Friedman and Brian Dever and Nick LoMonte) wearing spectacle-style computer gizmos that enable them to gain insights into the character of potential love mates. Things don’t turn out quite as advertised, but that’s how it is with computer dating.
Shows are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 ($15 group). Call 561-347-3948.

Friday, November 6, 2015

"Assassin" a Chinese Sensory Treat

Qi Shu as The Assassin

Chinese “Assassin” in Lake Worth and Fort Lauderdale

By Skip Sheffield

In the mood for some exotic? How about an elaborate 8th century Chinese costume drama?
“Assassin” is a beautiful, brutal and baffling martial arts film that doubles as a drama about courage, family, loyalty and revenge. The closest theaters to us are the Lake Worth Playhouse and Cinema Paradiso.
Based on a short story written during the Tang Dynasty, “Assassin” tells the tale of Nie Yinniang (Qi Shu) who was kidnapped by a nun as a 10year-old girl and trained in martial arts, swordsmanship and special skills to use any item at hand as a weapon. It is the 8th century. The Tang Dynasty (618-807), considered to be the high point in Chinese civilization, is in decline. Weibo Province to the north has emerged the strongest province. After 13 years in exile, Nie has been ordered by a provincial General to assassinate his political rival, Lord Tian Ji’an (Chen Chang).
The trip to Weibo is perilous. Nie is ambushed but she fights back fiercely, killing rivals and displaying her balletic martial arts skills. Instead of assassinating her target, Nie becomes so enamored with him she decides to join forces. This evidently challenges the balance of power and threatens the stability of the whole region.
This plot description may not be entirely correct, for “Assassin” is indeed mystic and baffling to American eyes. What it is for sure is its amazing sensory experience: exquisitely beautiful visually and aurally, with sumptuous costumes, exotic dances and musical instruments, folk singing, hard-charging horseback riding, majestic scenery and of course impressive, meticulously choreographed fight scenes that are almost like dances. The dialogue is in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Bigger, Noisier, Longer Bond

Babes, Bond and Blofeld

“Spectre” Ups James Bond’s Ante as He Visits His Past

By Skip Sheffield

Bigger explosions. Crazier stunts. Faster chases. Gorier fights in more exotic locations. And of course those sexy Bond girls.
“Spectre” follows a time-tested formula and ups the ante. This is Daniel Craig’s fourth appearance as British secret Agent 007, the man with “A License To Kill.” Craig is fully invested in the 50-year-old series, as he is co-producer of this 24th installment in a series that started in 1962 with “Dr. No.”
“Spectre” reintroduces some characters from the original Ian Fleming stories. Principal among these is supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who was thought dead but has been resurrected thanks to the solution of a court case involving intellectual rights. The script is by a committee of four, who have thrown in every trick they can to keep an audience excited.
The story begins in a gaudy, spectacular fashion during the day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City. Bond is disguised in a skeleton suit, babe on his arm. They check into a hotel room, where Bond doffs his disguise, climbs out a window onto a ledge toting a huge gun, and joins the raucous crowd in hot pursuit of a man in a white suit who is plotting to blow up a stadium full of spectators. A most spectacular fight ensues aboard a helicopter. Of course Bond knows how to expertly pilot a helicopter just as he can drive at breakneck speeds through narrow streets and pilot an airplane even when its wings are being torn off, and fight every kind of hand-to-hand combat while hardly raising a sweat or wrinkling his tailored suit.
James Bond has morphed into some kind of superman since brawny, suave Scottish actor Sean Connery first created the movie character in “Dr. No.” Daniel Craig has created the best calm, collected and brilliant Bond since Connery. The past is dredged up in the form of personal effects from the “Skyfall” mission sent to Bond. Dame Judi Dench’s M has been replaced by Ralph Fiennes’ cultivated, sympathetic boss, whose very existence is imperiled by a young hotshot known as C (Andrew Scott), who wants the Brits to join in some kind of worldwide surveillance and security scheme. In order to protect himself and the whole M16 00 program, Bond must go rogue to protect himself, his colleagues and the very concept of democracy, which is menaced by a taunting character known as Oberhauser (Christolph Waltz in fine villain fashion). He is aided by a much-young Q gadget-maker, played by Ben Whishaw. But first he must seduce a beautiful widow (Monica Bellucci) in Rome, flirt with Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) in London, and lay his life on the line for Dr. Madeleine Swann (French actress Lea Seydoux) in Austria and Morocco.

If you look for consistency, logic or believability in an action movie, you’ll go “Oh come on!” But if you want two and hours of violent action, witty quips and innuendoes under the sure hand of director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”), this should be your cup of tea.

Women's Rights Were Not Easily Won


Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, center

The Fight For Women’s Rights Was Never Easy

By Skip Sheffield

It’s hard to believe there was a time when women were disenfranchised and did not even have custody rights of their own children.
“Suffragette” dramatizes the long, torturous struggle by women to earn the right to vote in England. The setting is early 20th century London. A woman named Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) has been campaigning tirelessly for women’s right to vote through an organization called Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The men in power have reacted with increasing vehemence and violence, enforced by police.
Meryl Streep’s role is really just a cameo. The main characters are the working-class foot soldiers in the fight for suffrage. Writer Abi Morgan (“Iron Lady,” “Shame”) created the lead role of Maud Watts, a struggling laundry worker played by Carey Mulligan. Maud is married to a man called Sonny (Ben Wishaw), and they have a 6-year-old son. Maud’s co-worker Violet Miller (Ann Marie Duff) is an increasingly radical supporter of the women’s rights movement. So is shopkeeper Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), whose husband (Finbar Lynch) is fully sympathetic.

When Mrs. Pankhurst calls on women to smash windows and destroy property, shouting “Deeds, Not Words,” the effort becomes more like a guerilla war. Maud Watts had spent virtually her whole life toiling in the laundry, but the police brutality radicalizes her and alienates her husband. Trying to maintain an uneasy truce is Police Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) who tries to get Maud to snitch on fellow WSPU members in exchange for lighter punishment. The conflict comes to a head dramatically at a horse-racing Derby attended by King George V himself. “Suffragette” is a highly dramatic history lesson that illustrates how difficult it was for women to get the same rights men take for granted. Stay until the end credits and you will see the fight for women’s right is not over.

Genius is Not Easy


Brilliance is No Simple Matter

By Skip Sheffield

It’s not easy being smart. “A Brilliant Young Mind” dramatizes the trials of a 14-year-old British math genius named Nathan (Asa Butterfield of “Hugo”) when he wins a spot on the national British team competing at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Taiwan. The script by James Graham was inspired by director Morgan Matthews’ film documentary “Beautiful Young Minds.” The story begins with Nathan at age 9 witnessing the traumatic death of his father in a gruesome auto crash. It then flashes forward to Nathan at 14. He is very shy and awkward around other people, but his math teacher, Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall), recognizes his brilliance and encourages Nathan to try out for one of the six available spots on the British team.
Watching a bunch of brainy young kids solving math problems is not very entertaining, so attention is paid to Nathan’s windowed mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) and her boyfriend who is trying to be a substitute father. It’s no spoiler to reveal Nathan makes the team and travels to Taiwan where he meets a lovely young female genius named Zhang Mei (Jo Yang). Love blossoms against the backdrop of intense intellectual competition. It culminates with the world IMO competition at Cambridge University back in England, where the dramatic climax takes place.

If nothing else, “Brilliant Young Mind” demonstrates brainiacs have their difficulties just as ordinary people do. In fact they may have more.

A Recent History Lesson of Israel

Yitzak Rabin with Henry Kissinger

Israel’s Modern History is “The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers”

By Skip Sheffield

If you are interested in the history of modern-day Israel, “The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers” will be a movie documentary for you.
The film is a follow-up to Moriah Films’ “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers.” It is largely narrated by the late Ambassador Yehuda Avner, who passed away in March of this year, and who wrote the book on which this series is based.
“The Prime Ministers” begins with a flashback to Nov. 14, 1947, when a civilian cargo ship was attacked by Palestinians, referencing Israel’s turbulent, precarious past. The bulk of the action begins in 1974 with the election of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, who was Israel’s first native-born leader. Rabin negotiated the first bilateral treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1975, and helped launch its daring rescue of hostages in Entebbe in 1976.

Yehuda Avner signed on to continue as roving Ambassador when Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977. The documentary looks back on American Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush, and documents the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Michael Douglas recreates the voice of Rabin and Christoph Waltz speaks as Menachem Begin. One comes away from this film with an undeniable admiration for the courage and resilience of Israel’s people.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sexy, Very Funny "Sex With Strangers"


There is More to “Sex With Strangers” Than Just Sex

By Skip Sheffield

The title “Sex With Strangers” certainly grabs your attention. Laura Eason’s smart, ironic and very funny R-rated romantic comedy runs through Nov. 15 at Arts Garage, 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach.
If you are familiar with Arts Garage you will notice the address is different. The entrance on N.E. First Street is now blocked off. You have to walk around the building to find your way in. There is a new team at Arts Garage. Genie Croft, director of this show, is Resident Director. Keith Garsson, formerly of Boca Raton Theatre Guild, is producing director.
There are just two characters in “Sex With Strangers.” Jacqueline Laggy is Olivia Lago, a once-promising novelist who has lost her confidence and retreated into teaching.
Michael Uribe is a 28-year-old blogger who calls himself Ethan Strange. Ethan is totally plugged in to the digital age. His blog, which has the same name as the play’s title, has as many as 1 million hits a month. He books a room at the same writer’s retreat as Olivia, because he admires her first novel and he envies the fact she is legitimately in print.
Ethan is a good-looking charmer, and Olivia soon succumbs to those charms. Ethan has ulterior motives, as we learn in the course of nine scenes in two acts. “Sex With Strangers” is as much about the art of writing and the protection of intellectual property as it is about sex or love. Love is a complicated tango, and Jacqueline Laggy and Michael Uribe are expert dancers. I have seen Laggy in a number of shows; most memorably when she got down on all fours to play a dog in “Sylvia.” This is her time to shine as a smart, sexy yet vulnerable woman. Olivia is supposed to be “older;” turning 40, but if anything that makes her even more alluring.
Ethan is a cad, pure and simple, but newcomer Michael Uribe humanizes him. I think we will be seeing more of this actor on South Florida stages. See him now pulling out the stops (and pulling off his shirt).
There are three more plays planned for the season at Arts Garage; all of them new and provocative. This production bodes well for the new team.

Tickets are $30 general admission, $40 reserved seat and $45 premium. Call 561-450-6357 or go to