Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Unleash Your Imagination with "Kurios" from Cirque du Soleil


Explore the Hidden World of “Kurios Cabinet of Curiosity”

By Skip Sheffield

Unlock the gates of your imagination with “Kurios Cabinet of Curiosity,” the 35th production of Cirque du Soleil since its founding in Montreal in 1984. The show runs under a big top (“Grande Chapiteau” in French) next to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium Dec. 10- Jan. 29.
“Seeing is disbelieving” is the motto of “Kurios,” which is set in an alternate yet familiar past.
“We don’t disappoint you,” promises publicist Amelie Robitaille. “The show was inspired by the 19th century industrial revolution, in a time when people believed anything was possible.”
The central character is called The Seeker, who discovers a magical world beneath the surface of reality. The secret he learns is to close your eyes to see the fantastic creatures and experience the poetry and humor unleashed from the cabinet.
There are 45 circus artists from 15 counties, 20 percent of whom are veterans of Cirque du Soleil. In his imaginary travels The Seeker meets the Curiostanians, who guide him to Mr. Microcosmos, an authority figure; Nico the Accordion Man who is the perfect handyman; Klara, the Telegraph of the Invisible, who has a language of her own; Mini Lili, who at 3.2 foot is one of the smallest women in the world, and The Kurios: Winch and Plunger.
The acts include Rola Bola the Fearless Aviator; Accro Net underwater trampoline act; the Comic Act, in which a woman is invited from the audience to participate; the Aerial Straps, Yo-Yos, The Theater of Hands and Banquine, which consists of 13 artists performing synchronized acrobatics. Weather permitting there is a pre-show with three artists high atop the big top.
“Kurios” is perhaps the Cirque’s most elaborate and complex show to date. It takes six days just to set it up and two days to tear down. There are more than 100 custom-made costumes and 426 props, including the 750 lb. Mechanical Hand. It takes 65 trucks to carry 2,000 tons of equipment.
“We have an eight-piece Gypsy band with accordion, cello and a Greek singer, reveals Robitaille. “There is a head piece on the Gramophone that commemorates the invention of the gramophone. It was a very impressive era. Imagine if we lived without electricity. It’s a beautiful blend of science fiction and fantasy. We have been on the road two and a half years, since April, 2014. The show is so good it makes my life easy.”
Tickets start at $39. Go to www.cirquedusoleil.com

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Sister Act" Some Kind of Miracle


A Miraculous “Sister Act”

By Skip Sheffield

“Sister Act” is a silk-purse-out-of-a-sow’s-ear kind of play. That is to say the nun-themed musical that plays the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton through Dec. 23 is an unexpected pleasure.
I saw this show a couple of times previously and thought “meh.” The plot is preposterous and in no way resembles real life. Of course you don’t go to musical theater to experience real life. You go to escape.
Director Michael Ursua had the wisdom to accentuate the cartoon quality of “Sister Act,” while punching up Alan Menken’s faux rhythm-and-blues Motown-flavored music with Paul Reekie, who recorded the orchestrations.
Crucial to the casting is the role of Deloris Van Cartier, which was originated by Whoopie Goldberg in the 1992 movie. Orlando’s Patrece Bloomfield makes her area debut as Deloris, who has the bad luck to witness her hothead gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Don Seward) shoot dead a rival. Deloris’ former boyfriend “Sweaty” Eddie Souther, now a cop, urges her to go into hiding so she can testify in court against Curtis.
What better place to hide than a convent? That is the setup of “Sister Act.” Deloris is a highly unlikely nun, but the Mother Superior (Danette Cuming) is so compassionate she can’t turn Deloris away.
Deloris finds an immediate way to improve life at the convent. The Sisters Choir is woeful. Deloris gets the ladies singing on key and injects some R&B and Motown inflections, complete with costuming. The most satisfying aspect of “Sister Act” is the blossoming of some key players. The Mother Superior proves to have the best voice in the house. Shy postulant Mary Robert (Jessica Brooke Sanford) comes out of her shell and wows the crowd. Curtis Jackson may be a bad guy, but he has a beautiful, powerful voice. “Sister Act” is still not one of my favorite shows, but darned if Wick Theatre didn’t make it shine.
Tickets are $75-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bad Santa Has a Badder Momma

“Bad Santa 2” More of the Same

By Skip Sheffield

“Bad Santa 2” is the kind of movie that makes you feel embarrassed and slightly soiled. But is it funny? Yes it is, very much so, in its own tawdry way.
If you saw the first “Bad Santa” in 2003 you know what to expect. Billy Bob Thornton is laughing all the way to the bank again as William “Willie” Stokes, an unrepentant alcoholic and sex addict who is pressured to don the Santa suit once again by his little friend Marcus (Tony Cox reprising his role) who has just been released from prison. Marcus has a can’t-miss caper. The duo will rob the safe of a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Willie isn’t keen on robbing a charity, but he is broke and desperate.
Also reprising his role of bully-bait, naive Thurman Merman is Brett Kelly, who has grown from a chubby little boy into a fat young man (Kelly joined 50 pounds for the role) with curly blond hair. Thurman pesters Willie in Phoenix, then follows him to Chicago to pester some more.
Kathy Bates introduces a new character: Sunny Stokes, Willie’s mother, who is even raunchier and more debauched than Willie.
Kathy Bates is a fine actress who was twice nominated for an Academy Award before winning one for “Misery” in 1990. She throws all dignity to the wind to play tattooed, gin-swilling, foul-mouthed Sunny. She blows away Willie in badness.
Christina Hendricks plays the new character of Diane, who works for the charity Willie and Marcus intend to rob. She is the girlfriend of Regent Hastings (Ryan Henson), the shady head of the charity. Of course she falls for Willie’s dubious charms.

“Bad Santa 2” has no redeeming value other than low, vulgar laughs. Happy Holidays.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sisters Can Be Scary


“Cuddles” Strange But Fascinating

By Skip Sheffield

“Cuddles” is without a doubt the strangest play I’ve seen in 2016. That is not a bad thing. The play continues through Dec. 11 at Arts Garage, 94 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach.
“Cuddles” is a debut play by young (age 30) British writer Joseph Wilde. You could say Mr. Wilde knocked it out of the park his first time at bat. The play was heralded at its 2012 London debut, and it gained more accolades in its 2015 New York run. The Delray run is directed by Keith Garrison; a guy who likes to shake things up.
“Cuddles” is set up like a fairy tale. It even begins with “Once upon a time.”
It is explained that a King yearned for a son, but got two daughters instead. They are the confident, in-charge Tabby (Vera Samuels) and the insecure, reclusive Eve (Emily Freeman). Eve is in fact a prisoner in her dingy little bedroom. Tabby has raised her while trying to have a life of her own. Eve lives in a fantasy world, and it’s not very pretty. Eve has convinced herself she is a vampire. She can’t go outside because sunlight will kill her. She can’t look into a mirror. To satisfy Eve’s craving for blood, Tabby lets her feed upon her.
Clearly this is not a normal or healthy relationship. In the course of 80 short minutes without intermission, we learn the root of Eve’s trauma.
The role of Eve is an actress’s dream, and Emily Freeman does it full justice. She plays the entire role in her underwear, crawling and writhing around; scary one moment, lovable the next.
Tabby is a stone-cold bitch; foul-mouthed and vindictive at work and abusive of pathetic Eve. But Tabby truly loves Eve, and would love to have her come outside and experience the real world. When Tabby meets a suitor named Steve, the wish becomes an imperative.
Unlike most fairy tales, this one does not have a happy ending. It will leave you pondering the meaning of family, dependence, the responsibility of love and the possibility of change. Yes it is weird, but it is nothing if not fascinating. If this play were rated, it would be a hard R, so take note.
Tickets are $45. Call 561-459-6357 or go to www.artsgarage.org.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Price Ambition and Fame?


The Sad Story of “Christine”

By Skip Sheffield

“If it bleeds, it leads” was the cynical rallying call of news outlets in the 1970s.
To a great extent it remains true today. That’s what makes the small, independent feature “Christine” so relevant today.
Opening an exclusive engagement at FAU’s Living Room Theaters Nov. 18, “Christine” is not to be confused with Stephen King’s demon-possessed Plymouth. It is about a very real and very tragic figure named Christine Chubbuck. Chubbuck shocked the nation when she committed suicide live on the air on July 15, 1974 at a small television station in Sarasota, Florida.
Christine is played by British actress Rebecca Hall, daughter of Royal Shakespeare Company founder Peter Hall.
Screenwriter Craig Shilowich has written a slightly fictionalized account of the real events that led up to Christine’s drastic action, directed by Antonio Campos. She had failed to progress at a couple of previous stations, and now she finds herself relegated to a tiny market at a station ruled by a gruff, tyrannical manager (Tracey Letts). Christine wanted to do stories of substance and depth. Mike, her boss, wanted her to do crowd-pleasing human interest stories.
Though Christine is co-anchor at tiny WZRB with handsome George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), she yearns to return to a larger market. To make matters worse, at age 29 she lives with her mom Peg (J. Cameron Smith), who often treats her like a child. To make matters even worse, she is still a virgin and has never had a real boyfriend, though she clearly has a crush on handsome George. When George finally asks her to dinner it is not what she expected. Worse, he drops the bombshell he has been picked up by a station in Baltimore. Worse still, he is taking the pretty sports girl with him instead of Christine.

Depression is a terrible thing. Christine struggled with it all her life. Choosing the highly volatile, insecure career of TV newscaster just made matters worse. Rebecca Hall does a masterful job depicting the anger, frustration and sadness that led Christine to her fate. Ironically, Sarasota made national news. Christine’s character has been cited as partial inspiration for the movie “Network,” and continues to be a subject of fascination. In death, Christine Chubbuck achieved the fame she never realized in life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Amy Adams Learns to Face Bad Choices in "Nocturnal Animals"


Amy Adams Scores Again in “Nocturnal Animals”
(With Strong Assist from Jake Gyllenhaal)

By Skip Sheffield

Amy Adams has really been on a roll recently. After playing a brainy linguist who saves the world in “Arrival,” she now shows her glamour side as a successful avant garde art gallery owner in “Nocturnal Animals.”
Avant garde fashion designer Tom Ford adapted the screenplay from the novel “Tony and Susan,” by Austin Wright and directed with arty flair. "Nocturnal Animals” is both a thriller and a very twisted love story. It could also be seen as a satire of high-end modern art and the upper-crust social world.
This is apparent from the first few frames, as we see a grossly obese naked women dancing and writhing about. We see the women again on display as part of an opening show at the high-end Los Angeles art gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). The naked fat women may seem gross and revolting, but people are fawning over the “art,” calling it brilliant and congratulating Susan for curating it.
In reality Susan has come to hate what she does. She lives in a huge glass mansion overlooking L.A., but it is lonely and sterile. Her handsome second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) has made some bad business deals and squandered most of the couple’s wealth. He snubs Susan’s request for a beach getaway because he has a “business trip” to New York. We see him there with another woman.
A package arrives for Susan. It is a manuscript proof for a novel written by her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Susan has not seen Edward in 19 years. She dumped him because he was “too weak” and not ambitious enough. The novel, titled “Nocturnal Animals,” is dedicated to Susan. It is a violent, horrific story set in the badlands of West Texas. Tony Hastings, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter India (Ellie Barber) are traveling to Tony’s family home in his vintage Mercedes-Benz. In the middle of nowhere they are menaced by two cars full of rednecks. Their car is damaged, forced off the road, and then it really gets bad.
The story flashes back and forth between Tony in Texas and Susan in L.A. There are also flashbacks to Susan and Edward’s initial romance and breakup. Susan had discouraged Edward from being a writer. The novel can be seen as his ultimate revenge.
The movie is meticulously cast, with Michael Shannon riveting as a cancerous Texas detective who tries to help Tony bring to justice the three creeps who raped and killed his wife and daughter. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is creepy-scary as the main thug. Providing comic relief is Michael Sheen as Carlos, a gay trophy husband to a glittery socialite (Andrea Riseborough). Laura Linney is chilling as Susan’s icy mom.

“Nocturnal Animals” is certainly not for everyone. The violence is sickening, and so is the modern art. The visuals by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey are spellbinding. So is Amy Adams, coming to the realization of the horrible life mistakes she has made. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers the most powerful performance of his career in the dual role of Edward/Tony. One thing for sure, “Nocturnal Animals” is never boring- if you can take it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Searching for Purpose on Avenue Q


“Avenue Q” a Puppet Musical for Searching Minds

By Skip Sheffield

“The Muppets” were never like this. “Avenue Q,” a very funny show that plays through Sunday Nov. 20 at Broward Center for the Arts, has distinctly Muppet-like puppets and an urban setting much like the beloved PBS show “Sesame Street,” but Muppets never talked or acted like these puppets, created by Rick Pena for Slow Burn Theatre Company when the show was produced at West Boca Raton High School in 2012. Pena not only designed the puppets and costumes, he plays two principal roles: the lead of Princeton, a recent 22-year old college graduate whose song lament is “It Sucks To Be Me,” and Rod, a conservative young man who makes a discovery about his desires and sexuality while searching for his “Purpose.”
Nicole Piro was also in the Boca production, and she is better than ever, playing Kate Monster, Lucy the Slut, and others.
Another Boca veteran is Christian Vandepas, who plays Princeton’s roommate Nicky and manipulates half of Trekkie Monster, while providing the hilarious gruff voice of a porn addict.
Ann Marie Olson was also a veteran of the Boca production. While she doesn’t look the slightest bit Asian as Christmas Eve, she has a killer voice which powers the ballad “When You Ruv Someone.”
Newcomers are elfin Lissa Grossman Comess who plays multiple characters, including half of Trekkie Monster, one of the Bad Ideas Bears and burned-out educator, Mrs. Thistletwat.
Andrew Rodriguez-Triana is the sad sack failing comedian and boyfriend of Christmas Eve.
Then there is little Juanita B. Green as Gary Coleman, the washed-up child TV star- turned building superintendent, who really runs with the role.
This time the catchy music by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx is recorded by Manny Schvartzman, but the cast is so well rehearsed by director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater, the loss of live music is hardly felt.
“Avenue Q” is going on the road to Aventura Dec. 1-4 and the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach Dec.16-18. Bring an open mind and enjoy the angst of a gang who “Wish I Could Go Back to College.”

Tickets are $45. Call 954-462-0222 for the Broward production or 561-243-7922, ext. 1 for Delray Beach.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Amy Adams Shines in "Arrival"

“Arrival” is Amy Adams’ moment to shine.

By Skip Sheffield

I have always admired Amy Adams as an actress, but never has she been asked to carry an entire movie on her slim shoulders.
Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist at an unnamed college. Ms. Banks is approached out of the blue by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker), who is trying to make sense of an invasion by 12 oval-shaped spaceships that are now hovered in 12 locations around the world.
Dr. Banks drops everything to do this mission. In the real world one might protest, wait a minute, what about her classes? One might also wonder how she scored such a dreamy seafront apartment on a teacher’s salary.
But this is not real life. This is science fiction, written by Eric Heissener from a story by Ted Chang, and directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”).
Science fiction has come a long way since “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (1951), with its deathless pronouncement “klaatu barada nikto.” Dr. Banks is charged with figuring out what the aliens, who look like giant octopi, with extra tentacles, want from us humans. The answer is surprising, and not scary.
Science fiction movies are often cautionary tales. Humans tend to fear the unknown. Certainly these weird creatures are not warm and cuddly. Dr. Banks is a linguist who seems to know every current language. The aliens communicate not with words but inky blotches. Jeremy Renner is along for the ride more for moral support than anything else. Dr. Banks needs it. She still mourns the death of her daughter to a rare, fatal disease. Tzi Ma plays the hawkish Chinese Gen. Chang, who thinks the answer is to blow the critters into oblivion.
“Arrival” is the best science fiction movie I have seen in many years. It makes you think, which is a good thing.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Not-So Marvelous Mumbo-Jumbo


“Dr. Strange” Mysterious Mumbo-Jumbo

By Skip Sheffield

Marvel mumbo-jumbo. That pretty much describes “Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
“You need to read the comic book,” said Al, my friend and fellow reviewer.
It would be difficult to get my hands on a 50-year-old Marvel Comics issue featuring the doctor with strange powers. My notes were as incomprehensible as the story itself. Suffice to say, I never read “Doctor Strange” or any other Marvel Comic, so I am at a distinct disadvantage of making heads or tails of this fantastic story.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a celebrated neurosurgeon. Early on he is in a horrendous auto accident. His hands, which are the tools of his trade, are badly damaged. After moping around, he travels to Katmandu (of course) and encounters the mystical Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofer) and the even more mystical Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton with a clean-shaven head. The Ancient One bestows magical powers upon Dr. Strange. Sparks fly out from his now healed hands. It helps him fight the bad guy, played by Mads Mikkelson. Dr. Strange gets help from the ever-lovely Rachel McAdams as a fellow doctor.

“Doctor Strange” is CGI special effects dominated, including some really cool scenes when streets of Manhattan are accordioned up and folded. What it all means I haven’t the slightest idea. I have failed on my mission Captain, but check it out if you are of the Marvel Universe,

Moonlight in Miami


A Made-in-Miami Masterwork: “Moonlight”

By Skip Sheffield

“Moonlight” made me feel melancholy, but not for the usual reasons of story or presentation.
“Moonlight” was shot entirely in Miami, in the blighted Liberty City neighborhood. Because of our short-sighted Florida legislators, the tax incentives that helped Florida reach number three in film and television production in the nation were eliminated last June. There was an immediate mass exodus of film and TV production people. Most went to Georgia, which has some of the most industry-friendly incentives in the country.
“Moonlight” is a small, intimate film, shot on a shoestring budget. Furthermore it has a subject matter that is not mass audience-friendly.
It is about a black boy called “Little” (Ashton Sanders). Little, whose given name is Chiron, is bullied and tormented by his classmates. At his young age he is branded a “faggot.”
Chiron grows into a teenager played by Alex Hibbert. Finally he grows into a young man played by Trevante Rhodes. Similarly Chiron’s best friend Kevin is played by three different actors in various stages of life.
It is bad enough Chiron is poor, black and gay. To compound matters his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is a crackhead with an abusive boyfriend (Mahershala Ali).

“Moonlight” is no romp about sun and fun in Miami. It shines a light on people we don’t see or choose not to see. As such this movie is a compassionate glimpse on those on the margins of society, so close but so far away from the wealth and privilege of South Florida.