Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Mystery of Music in "Marguerite"

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“Marguerite” a Bittersweet Comedy About a Talentless Singer with Money to Burn

By Skip Sheffield

Musical talent is a mysterious thing. Some people are born with it. Others can spend a lifetime trying to develop it and still fail.
Such is the dilemma of “Marguerite,” a bittersweet French comedy about a wealthy but talentless woman who aspires to be an opera singer.
Writer-director Xavier Giannoli based his script loosely on the real-life Florence Foster Jenkins, who was a wealthy American socialite who fancied herself a great singer. Because she paid all the bills, no one had the nerve to say what they really thought.
Giannoli has transported the character and story to Paris, 1920. The name Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) may be a sly reference to American comic actress Margaret Dumont, who was the favorite comic foil of the Marx Brothers comedies.
Marguerite lives on a large estate outside the city, with a full staff and an all-purpose butler named Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who knows more about Marguerite’s quirks than anyone.
Marguerite’s husband Georges (Andre Marcon) puts up with his wife’s delusions because his business is failing and she foots all the bills. The only singing Marguerite does is in practice and before a private music club before fellow socialites. The club members quietly laugh behind Marguerite’s back as she sings off-key, off-tempo, and with mangled pronunciation.
It takes a certain talent to sing as badly as Marguerite and keep a straight face. Catherine Frot has that talent. She worked previously in 2006 with co-star Andre Marcon in another music-themed movie, “The Page-Turner.” As a matter of fact Frot is downright poignant when her character, at the urging of a cynical music critic (Sylvain Dieuaide), decides to book a theater, hire an orchestra and put on a public performance.
Contrasting with Marguerite is a beautiful young woman named Hazel (Christa Theret), who has an equally beautiful voice and real talent. For pure comic relief there is Michel Fau as foppish, washed-up opera singer Atos Pezzini, who for a handsome sum agrees to be Marguerite’s vocal coach.

There is nothing sadder than a delusional character who does not recognize her own delusions. That’s where the bitter part of bittersweet comes in. It helps to have a passing knowledge of famous opera arias to chuckle at how badly Marguerite bungles classics. It is a rueful chuckle. Anyone who has ever done some performing has run into such delusional characters. Like Marguerite’s fictional friends, it is hard to break the bad news, so we just grin and bear it.


A Genius Named Hank

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Hank Williams Immortalized in “I Saw the Light”

By Skip Sheffield

Hank Williams, Sr. died when I was only five, but he has impacted my life in many ways.
Hank Williams was a country & western music super star. I always thought “I Saw The Light” was a traditional gospel song handed down from generation to generation. No, it was a song written by Hank Williams in 1948. Williams was greatly influenced by gospel music, growing up in rural Alabama.
“I Saw The Light” is a biographical picture starring British actor Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston not only resembles Hank Williams, his approximation of an Alabama accent is most convincing.
The career of Hank Williams was the very definition of “meteoric.” He was taught how to play guitar by a black street performer named Rufus Payne. This detail is omitted in director Marc Abraham’s screenplay, based on Colin Escott’s biography.
Instead we jump in mid-stream and mid-concert, in which someone remarks Hank had been “drinking like a fish,” and he is heckled by hostile audience members.
Hank Williams was an alcoholic who started drinking at about the same time he started playing in public as a young teenager. Williams was in pain almost always, due to the fact he was born with spina bifida, which gave him excruciating backaches. “I Saw the Light” begins in April, 1947, after Williams recorded his first hit record. He would be dead just six years later at age 29 of “heart failure” most likely exacerbated by alcohol and pain pill addiction. Yet in his short lifetime Williams became one of the most renowned American songwriters of the 20th century. From his first hit “Move It On Over” in 1947 (which became a hit cover for George Thorogood more than 50 years later) to such standards as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hey Good Lookin’, Williams justified the nickname “The Hillbilly Shakespeare. His son, Hank Jr., had a hit with “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” released posthumously in 1989.

This movie belongs to Tom Hiddleston, but he gets able support from Elizabeth Olsen as his first wife Audrey, Cherry Jones as his mother-manager Lillie and Bradley Whitford as his industry champion, Fred Rose. I am not particularly a country music fan, but Hank Williams crossed all borders and labels. This movie makes me appreciate him all the more. He did not like the label but he was genius.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Reluctant Love in Irish Isles

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A Lovely, Lyrical and Subtly Sexy Tango in “Outside Mullingar”

By Skip Sheffield

Lovely and lyrical is what “Outside Mullingar” is. Wryly funny too is this John Patrick Shanley play being presented through April 24 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself speaking with a slight Irish brogue with a Gaelic lilt after experiencing this tale of reluctant love by an Irish-American playwright who only later in life embraced his ancestral roots.
John Patrick Shanley was born and raised in The Bronx and went to Catholic schools. His experience is reflected in his most famous play, “Doubt,” which won the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize as Best Play. “Outside Mullingar” is a much smaller play with only four characters, set in rural Ireland.
We first meet the older generation. There is a nasty storm with lightning and Tony Reilly (Alex Wipf) and Aoife Muldoon (Patricia Kilgarriff) touch on the topic of death. Tony’s son Anthony (Nick Hetherington) enters, and reference is made to Aoife’s daughter Rosemary (Kathy McCafferty), who is offstage smoking. It seems Anthony pushed Rosemary down when he was seven and she just six. Though next-door neighbors, they have been estranged ever since.
This is too bad for Anthony, because Rosemary owns rights to the land that links Anthony’s ancestral farm to the highway. Anthony has to go through two gates to get from the highway to his family farm, where he has been “breaking my back since I was five.”
Director J. Barry Lewis has moved the action briskly in seven scenes with no intermission. The speed is aided by the fact the sets are on a turntable, changing Tony’s cluttered kitchen to the outdoors, where Rosemary is smoking a pipe, and thence to Rosemary’s more orderly kitchen.
It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to realize Anthony and Rosemary are destined to be together. What makes this Irish yarn so appealing is the convincing way Nick Hetherington and Kathy McCafferty dance this subtle, sexy tango. McCafferty seems an Irish lass through and through. Hetherington is equally believable as a stubborn man facing the inevitable. This is what you might call a “feel-good play,” with a distinctly Irish accent.
Tickets are $64. Call 561-514-4042 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.




Thursday, March 24, 2016

Still Big. Fat and Greek After All These Years

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A Sequel 14 Years in the Makiing


By Skip Sheffield

Fourteen years ago I saw an advance screening of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” I thought at the time this charming, offbeat comedy is going to be a hit. I repeated that same thought when I had the good fortune to meet the stars; Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the script, and John Corbett, who played her non-Greek boyfriend who became her husband.
Both stars are back for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” and they look remarkably the same as they did 14 years ago. Does lightning strike twice? Maybe, but in this case it is hard to top the novelty of the original.
Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian Miller (John Corbett) are now a settled married couple with a 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris). Paris has applied to several colleges for admission. Her parents want her to go to Northwestern, in her home town of Chicago. Paris would rather go to New York University, in the big, bad Big Apple.
The wedding of the title refers to a ceremony with Toula’s parents Maria (Lainie Kazan) and Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine), who run Zorba’s, the family Greek restaurant. Through some clerical error they are not legally married.

Ian Miller is now a school principal. Toula still works at her family restaurant. There is a little side business with Paris being matched with a suitable Greek boy and the older men getting inappropriately sloshed. There are no alerts to be spoiled. That’s pretty much it. There are a few pleasant laughs along the way, thanks in part to always-reliable Andrea Martin as kooky Aunt Voula, but “Greek Wedding 2” breaks no new ground. Nia Vardalos has not been as successful in her endeavors as she was with the huge sleeper 2002 hit of the first “Greek Wedding.” Nia Vardalos is a nice lady and I wish her the best, but I think this gold mine is pretty much played out.


Surviving a Mother From Tell and Learning By It

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A Wounded Child Makes Up With Her Mother

By Skip Sheffield

Gayle Kirschenbaum had a mother from Hell, but she lived to tell the tale.
The positive result is her documentary “Look at Us Now, Mother,” opening in area theaters March 25.
Mom is Mildred Kirschenbaum. She is alive and well and lives in Boca Raton. Mother and daughter will appear at several screenings for Q&A sessions. These include after the 10 a.m. March 25 screening at Movies of Delray; the 7 p.m. screening at Living Room Theaters; at Movies of Delray March 26 for four screenings and at the Regal Shadowood in west Boca Raton that evening.
“Look at Us Now, Mother” combines home movies shot by Gayle’s late father, Gerald Kirschenbaum, still photos and present-day interviews with family, friends, and Gayle’s therapist.
Gayle Kirschenbaum, now 61, grew up on Long Island, New York wondering if she had been born in the wrong family. Her parents were expecting another son. They got Gayle.
Gayle was and is bright and creative, but her mother harped on her shortcomings, especially her physical appearance and one particular feature.
“My mom had been bugging me forever to get a nose job, so I finally agreed to visit three surgeons,” said Gayle by telephone from New York. “I insisted that we film the interviews. The result was my 13-minute documentary ‘My Nose,’ which is really the basis for this longer documentary.”
Gayle left home at her first opportunity at age 17 and developed a successful career in television production. Her first film documentary, “A Dog’s Life,” about her beloved pet Chelsea, got her interviewed by Katie Couric.
Gayle says the production of “Look at Us Now, Mother!” was catharsis more for her mother than Gayle.

“We have made a kind of peace,” Gayle admits. “We have been on the road so much since April, when the film debuted at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. One thing I do request when we travel is that we have separate rooms.”


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bullets, Babes and Woody Allen at Kravis Center

------------------Jemma Jane and the "Bullets" Cast----------------------


Woody Allen Spoofs the 1920s in “Bullets Over Broadway”

By Skip Sheffield

“Bullets Over Broadway” was not one of Woody Allen’s better films when it came out in 1994. The stage musical version, which debuted in 2014, is no improvement.
Nevertheless there is some fun to be had with the touring production, which runs through Sunday, March 27 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
The show mixes original songs by Woody Allen, Douglas McGrath and Glen Kelly with popular hits from the 1920s (the setting is 1929). The story premise is the same as in the movie. David Shayne (Michael Williams), a promising young playwright, has written his first play and is desperate to raise the money to mount it on Broadway. David finds an unlikely backer; a mobster named Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino). There is a catch, and it is a big one. In order to release the funds, David has to agree to cast Nick’s talentless, crass, screechy girlfriend Olive Neal (Gemma Jane) in a principal role. Nick sends one of his enforcers, a guy who calls himself Cheech (Jeffrey Brooks), as “protection” for Olive.
As it turns out, Cheech has more artistic talent than David Shayne. It is his revisions that turn the show around into something really worthy.
There are side plots. The overbearing Grand Dame star, Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton) sees David as a conquest. The problem is David already has a girlfriend, Ellen (Hannah Rose Deflumeri).
Everything will sort out and come together in a finale opening night, which we see from a backstage point of view. Any show that has “Yes, We have No Bananas” as a curtain number can’t be all bad. The dancing, based on original choreography by Susan Stroman, is agile and spirited. The costumes and sets are bright and brash. The band is rock solid. Given the material, the acting is as good as one could hope. I'll still take "Manhattan."

Tickets are $49-$67.  Call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.



Monday, March 21, 2016

"Spring Awakening" a Trash-Talking Treasure

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Slow Burn Burnishes a Dusky Jewel

By Skip Sheffield
Slow Burn Theatre Company has done something remarkable with its production of the musical “Spring Awakening,” running through April 3 in the Amaturo Theater of Broward Center. They have made a dark and difficult play enjoyable.
“Spring Awakening” was controversial from its beginning as an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind. Because of its frank treatment of how teenagers really felt about love, sex and death, it was banned in some circles.
More than 100 years later “Spring Awakening” was turned into a 2006 Broadway musical with music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Safer. The production won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a Grammy Award for the cast album.
I saw a production of the show a few years ago at Parker Playhouse. While I admired the music, I thought the story was a downer. After all, two of the characters die; one by suicide, and sexual confusion, perversion and adolescent angst dominate.
Director Patrick Fitzwater has not altered the melodramatic script. He has made it palatable through a first-class singing and acting cast, brilliant choreography and an excellent onstage orchestra, pumped by the powerful but not overpowering rock guitar stylings of Guillermo Gonzalez under the direction of Caryl Fantel.
The setting is the same as the original play, in late 19th century Germany. It is a repressive society, particularly for young people. Melchoir (Cameron Jordan) is a handsome, charismatic, rebellious young man who has taken it upon himself to “fight the power.” He doesn’t believe in God or religion. His friend Moritz (Cameron Jordan) is his opposite; weak, insecure, oppressed by his parents and intimidated by the demands of school.
The play begins with Wendela (Stephanny Noria), a beautiful young woman who does not understand her sexual awakening, as she conveys through the first song, “Mama Who Bore Me.”
Mama (Kaitlyn O’Neill) is no help. When Wendela asks for sex education advice, Mama just brushes her aside. This will prove disastrous when Wendela falls under the spell of Melchior.
One weird thing about this show is that all the adult characters are played by just two actors. Matthew Korinko plays all the adult men, from priest to father to principal. Kaitlyn O’Neill is all the women, including a seductive piano teacher. Another weird thing is that most of the actors appear to be beyond high school age, but for those of us raised on “Beach Party” movies, it is no big deal.
In 1891 German schools were not coeducational, which furthered the mystery of male-female relationships. Each of the classmates has his or her little dramas, typified in “My Junk.” My favorite is Georg (Etan Deray), who fantasizes about his piano teacher.
The lyrics are cheerfully vulgar, but somehow this time around they fit. They culminate in the anthem “Song of Purple Summer,” and its final conclusion which I can’t quote in a family newspaper.
Slow Burn Theatre took a chance moving from the low-rent West Boca High School Auditorium to the high-rent district of Broward Center. “Spring Awakening” shows the risk is paying off. This show is not for everyone, but for those who cherish individual freedom, it is a treasure.
Shows are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $45. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

We Like You, We Really Do Sally Field

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Sally Field Shines in “Doris”

By Skip Sheffield

Sally Field, we like you, we really like you. Even at age 69 we still like you.
Sally has a role tailor-made for her in “Hello, My Name is Doris.” The original story is by Laura Terruso with screenplay by Terruso and director Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer”).
Since her mother died, Doris Miller (Sally Field) has lived alone is a clutter-filled Staten Island house. Every weekday she catches the Staten Island Ferry to her job as an accountant at a large firm in Manhattan. Two things happen to change Doris’ dull routine. First she attends a motivational speech given by a charming lecturer (Peter Gallagher) who urges everyone to “take big risks.” Doris has always quietly shied away from risks, but when a handsome young executive is transferred from Malibu, Doris is smitten with this California-cool dude named John Fremont (Max Greenfield).
It is hard to imagine any actress other than Sally Field with the ability to pull off kooky, dowdy, adorable and yes sexy in varying degrees. When Doris, at the urging of the 13-year-old granddaughter (Isabella Acres) of her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly), fabricates a fake Facebook account to learn more about what John Fremont likes, we think yeah, happens every day. When she shows up at a concert by John’s favorite electronica music group, we admire her pluck. When the group takes a shine to Doris we think, OK, maybe, but when they decide to do a photo shoot of her for their next album, we think wait a minute!
Doris, who does have active fantasies, inevitably comes back down to Earth. John has an attractive, age-appropriate girlfriend Brooklyn (Beth Behrs) who is also a professional singer. Doris exposes a darker side of her nature when she does something not very nice. It also shows she is human.

I am probably not the most impartial judge of Sally Field. Shucks I have had a crush on her since I first saw her as “Gidget,” back in 1965. I see her as poster girl for sexy senior citizens everywhere and hey, she is only a year older than me. Wouldn't you know, the local preview screening was hosted by A.A.R.P.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gerard Schwarz and Misha Dichter, Together Again

A Fitting 10th Anniversary Finale for Symphonia Boca Raton

By Skip Sheffield

Gerard Schwarz and Mischa Dichter are together again for the Connoisseur Concert’s 10th season finale of the Symphonia Boca Raton at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 20 in the Roberts Theatre of St. Andrew’s School, 3900 Jog Road, Boca Raton.
Gerard Schwarz, renowned conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony, conductor of the prestigious All-Star Orchestra and founder of the Kahn Academy, is back as guest conductor of the Boca Symphonia. The concert features his long-time friend, pianist Misha Dichter, as soloist in a “Tribute to the Masters” program.
The occasion will be doubly meaningful for Misha Dichter, because it marks the 50th anniversary of his first-place win at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition (the second after Van Cliburn) and he will be given a special honor by the Symphonia.
“We will be honoring Misha Dichter with our Apollo Award,” revealed Symphonia artistic director and first trumpet Jeffrey Kaye. “The program is especially exciting for me because of Ives’ quirky `Unanswered Question.’ I first played it years ago with James Judd.”
Kaye first worked with Gerard Schwarz in 2009 at the Eastern Music Festival, when Schwarz was director. Kaye says it took some doing, but he vowed to get Schwarz to come to Florida to guest conduct the Boca Symphonia.
“I love coming to Boca Raton,” Schwarz says. “I get to spend time with my grandsons, who are 7 and 8, and I play tennis at the Boca Raton Resort.”
The March 20 program, which will have an encore performance March 22 at Eissey Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, begins with Beethoven’s Corillan Overture, followed by his Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring Mr. Dichter. Charles Ives’ “Unanswered Question” is only six minutes long, and it features Jeff Kaye playing trumpet offstage. Concluding the program is Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian.”
The Connoisseur Concert weekend begins with a Friday, March 18 “Box Lunch with the Symphony,” which for this special occasion will honor two longtime Symphonia supporters, Molly Foreman Kozel and Mimi Sadler.
“My dad was a music lover- he loved opera,” commented Molly Foreman. “So I grew up with music, and it has always been a part of my life. We had a few good years with the Boca Raton Symphony, but they blew it after they merged with the Fort Lauderdale Symphony. Marshall Turkin and Martin Coyne, with the support of Martin Stein, founded the Symphonia on a more manageable model and solid financial basis. Miami Sadler was with the Boca Pops for many years. I suggested her to the Symphonia and she has been a good board member. We are proud of what the Symphonia has accomplished in just ten years.”
For ticket information, call 866-687-1201 or go to tickets@thesymphonia.org.
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Deepest, Darkest Amazon a Century Ago

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Explore the Amazon Rainforest of 1909

By Skip Sheffield

Imagine yourself in the deepest, darkest part of the Amazon rainforest in what is now Colombia, way back in 1909, when the area was uncharted and unexplored.
That’s what Austrian scientist and explorer Theodor Koch-Grunberg and his colleague Richard Evans Schultes experienced more than 100 years ago. Their perilous expedition is memorialized in “Embrace of the Serpent,” which was Colombia’s official entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film. The film won eight Macondo Awards, which is Colombia’s equivalent of the Oscar.
“Embrace of the Serpent” is the first film shot in the Amazonian rainforest in more than 30 years. Director Ciro Guerra chose to shoot in radiant black-and-white, which lends a vintage look to the movie. The script is based on the diaries of Theodor Koch-Grunberg, who is called Theo and is played by Jan Bijvoet.
Theo is very weak and near death as the movie begins. His only hope is to find the sacred and extremely rare healing plant Called Yakruna by the natives. Theo begs Karamakate, the last surviving tribal shaman, to take him to the remote mountain where the last Yakruna grows.
Karamakate is played by Nilbo Torres as the young native who befriends Theo and Antonio Bolivar as an old man.
It was loyal Karamakate who preserved Theo’s diaries and saw to it they got back to Austria, where they could be published.
There is an undercurrent message of the devastating effects of European colonial rule over the native inhabitants and their unspoiled paradise. This is made even more poignant today, as South American rainforests are despoiled and destroyed every day in the name of development and profit. What Ciro Guerra has created is an artistic masterpiece with a heartbreaking, heartfelt ecological message.



Thursday, March 10, 2016

Brilliant or B.S.? You Be the Judge

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Wandering the Los Angeles Wasteland in “Knight of Cups”

By Skip Sheffield

Terrence Malick is either a visionary creative genius or a world-class B.S. artist.
In truth he is probably a little bit of both. You can see this in action in “Knight of Cups;” the latest from the writer-director of such masterpieces as “The Badlands,” “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line” and such head-scratchers as “The New World,” “To The Wonder” and “The Tree of Life.”
Malick is highly intelligent. He graduated cum laude from Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar. Maybe he thinks too much.
“Knight of Cups” is almost all an interior monologue emanating from the disillusioned, disenchanted character of Rick, played by Christian Bale and voiced by Brian Dennehy.
Rick is evidently a very successful Hollywood screenwriter, though that is never spelled out. We never see him working or writing. He just mopes about, wondering what any of it means. Rick wanders from the beach at Santa Monica to the Hollywood Hills to the high desert and to Las Vegas, romancing in the process six beautiful women.
“Knight of Cups,” which takes its title from the Tarot card of the same name, wins points if you fancy beautiful women in various stages of undress. These women include Nancy (Cate Blachett) who is or was his wife; free-spirited Della (Imogene Poots); professional model Helen (Freida Pinto); Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a now-married former love with whom he has a fling; a sexy stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer), and the relatively innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas).
Much of Rick’s musings is pretty obvious stuff taught in the Bible and Philosophy 101. Money can’t ensure happiness, nor can material possessions. Success does not equal contentment, nor does sex. The key to happiness lies within.
Two other important characters are Rick’s regretful father (Brian Dennehy) and his screwed-up brother Barry (Wes Bentley), a defrocked Methodist pastor given to violent outbursts.

“Knight of Cups” begins portentously and pretentiously with a quote from John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Perhaps it would be helpful to be familiar with the characters on Tarot cards, because they signal chapters in Rick’s wanderings. Probably not. One thing for sure, the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki (who just won his third Oscar in a row) is stunningly gorgeous, whether on Los Angeles’ skid row, the bleak high desert, or the glittering palaces of Las Vegas. Whatever it means is up to you. I got the point early on, but I learned nothing new.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"Curtains" Tries Really Hard

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“Curtains” a Funny, Ambitious, Bad Play-Within-A-Play

By Skip Sheffield

There are some good things about “Curtains,” the little-performed 2007 Kander & Ebb musical comedy playing its Florida premiere at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton through March 26.
The large cast is very strong, with several standouts. The costumes are ornate and hilarious. Even the sets are funny in a cartoonish sort of way.
There is a reason “Curtains” is seldom performed. It is not a great show. It is a four-headed hydra of a play-within-a-play. First it is a ridiculous cowboy musical called “Robbin’ Hood” having a tryout in Boston.It is also an excessively complicated murder mystery with the entire cast and crew of “Robbin’ Hood” as suspects. It is a romance between a composer and his estranged wife and a detective and an ing√©nue. Most important, it is a valentine to “show people” who never give up on making the show go on.
It sounds promising on paper, but the original book by Peter Stone and script by Rupert Holmes does not offer the actors a strong vehicle. The songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb with additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes are mostly silly and repetitious, with titles like “Wide Open Spaces,” “Show People,” “Thataway” and “A Tough Act to Follow.”
The setup is funny. Not only is “Robbin’ Hood” a lame show, it stars an inept diva named Jessica Cranshaw (Wick Theatre vice president and theater curator Kimberly Wick), who cannot sing, dance or even remember her lines. Mercifully Jessica is killed offstage, setting the murder mystery in motion.
This prompts the entrance of Boston Police Lt. Frank Ciaffi (Tony Edgerton in young JFK mode) a Colombo-style detective who is also clearly stage-struck (he has done good work in community theater). So not only does Ciaffi sequester the “Robbin’ Hood” company in the theater so he can investigate the murder, he becomes involved in re-casting and re-writing the play-within-a-play with lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Julie Kleiner) pressed into service as leading lady over understudy Niki Harris (Mallory Newbrough), a winsome lass who catches the eye of Lt. Ciaffi.
The recasting enables composer Aaron Fox (Michael Ursua) to cozy up to his lyricist ex-wife Georgia (Kleiner), for whom her still carries a torch. Ursua, who is also musical director and plays onstage piano, is far and away the best male singer, and he has the best song: “I Miss the Music” sung in a beautiful tenor.
Oh there is more, much more in this overstuffed plot. There is tough-as-nails producer Carmen Bernstein (Angie Radosh in a star turn); egotistical, fey director Christopher Belling (Kevin Healey); vicious Boston Globe theater critic Daryl Grady (Cliff Burgess); chorus boy star and choreographer Bobby Pepper (Alex Jorth); Carmen Bernstein’s star-struck but unappreciated daughter Bambi (Emily Tarallo); scheming co-producer Sidney Bernstein (Alan Gerstel); light-in-the-loafers stage manager Johnny Harmon (Brian Padgett), and more, much more, chorus girls and boys.
“Curtains” earns points for courage and effort, but after the initial premise, we get it. We get it already.
Tickets are $70-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.



Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bessie Smith Sings "The Devil's Music"

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Avery Sommers Channels Bessie Smith

By Skip Sheffield

Live fast, die young. That could have been Bessie Smith’s motto. The character of Bessie Smith, one of the most renowned blues singers and songwriters of the 20th century, is being recreated by Avery Sommers, star of “The Devil’s Music: The Life and Times of Bessie Smith,” continuing through March 26 at the Arts Garage 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach.
Angelo Parra’s “play with music” is set in the last year of Bessie Smith’s life on Oct. 4, 1937 at a “buffet flat” (informal night club catering to black people) in Memphis, Tennessee. Bessie was booked to perform at a big Memphis theater, but because she was black the engagement was broken rather than violate strict segregation rules.
So Bessie is not in the best of spirits when the play begins and it goes downhill from there as she drinks and drinks and becomes more belligerent and resentful.
Avery Sommers, who is a perfectly lovely lady, plays against type to create rowdy Bessie Smith, who was born in poverty, taken advantage by everyone, especially the men in her life, and in a career slump as musical tastes changed.
Sommers has a powerful voice that is actually more refined than that of Bessie Smith. She is backed by an onstage quartet anchored by a most talented pianist whose stage name is Pickle. Elijah Taj Gee, who is just 25, plays the character with fine barrel-house style.
Director Genie Croft keeps the action brisk and performed without intermission in about 85 minutes. The song list is a parade of greatest hits that should be familiar even if one is not a Bessie Smith fanatic. Poor Bessie died in a car crash in 1937 at age 43. Standards like “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” “After You’re Gone” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’ continue being heard to this day. Bessie was buried in an unmarked grave, but another great, self-destructive blues singer, Janis Joplin, paid for a tomb stone in 1970. Joplin died that same year at age 27.
Tickets are $30 general admission and $40 and $45 reserved seat. Call 561-571-8510 or go to www.artsgarage.org.


Friday, March 4, 2016

More Show, Less Circus in "Toruk"

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“Toruk’ Soars Above Sunrise & Miami

By Skip Sheffield

“Toruk” is the most showy, least circus-like Cirque du Soleil production I have seen to date. It continues through Sunday, March 6 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, then it runs March 10-13 at American Airlines Arena in Miami.
“Toruk’ is the kind of show that could only be presented in a large arena. The stage takes up the whole ground floor of the arena and it has different levels with hydraulic lifts, turntables, and elaborate rigging for the aerial artists. Overhead is a circular rig hung from the rafters. At one point a quartet of performers shimmy up ropes to the rig and pound upon big bass drums in concert with more drummers on the floor.
In a departure from earlier Cirque du Soleil shows, this one has a “Na’vi Storyteller” who narrates in plain English what is going on. All the other characters spout meaningless gibberish and use inflections to convey emotion.
“Toruk: The First Flight” is loosely based on the Avator world created by filmmaker James Cameron. The two main characters are young men who take it upon themselves to save the “Tree of Souls” and save their civilization. In order to do this the men must bring together the bickering tribes of Avator. They are joined in their effort by a very petite, very limber young gymnast woman.
Programs are not issued for Cirque shows, so we don’t know who is whom. I would like to know who that very limber female is and what her age is. She looks to be about 14, but she could be a very small adult.
The puppetry is downright majestic in “Toruk.” Four puppeteers manipulate feral dog-like creatures that chase people around. The most spectacular effect is the airborne predator known as Toruk. Legend has it if a pure soul can ride Toruk for the first time and the world and the Tree of Souls will be saved.

Helpful hint: BB&T Center nicks you $20 just to park in their parking lot. You don’t have much choice as there are no legal alternatives. Tickets are $43, $69 and $130 with higher-priced ‘producer’s seats” available for high-rollers. Go to www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk for tickets and information.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

"Matilda" Fights The Power

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Roald Dahl Must Have Suffered in School

By Skip Sheffield
The British educational system must have been really tough on young Roald Dahl. The writer-illustrator poured out his stored-up anger and resentment in “Matilda,” which began as a children’s book and is now a stage musical running through Sunday, March 6 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach
It takes an extraordinary girl to play an extraordinary girl, and this show has one in Sarah McKinley Austin, a tiny girl with a giant talent. In fact the entire cast is first-rate, and small wonder. The show is produced under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Matilda is just 5-years-old, but she has the intelligence to challenge an adult and even has powers of telekinesis. Some teachers embrace the challenge of having such a smart student. Others feel threatened. An example of the former is Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood0, a young teacher who finds a kindred soul in Matilda and her love of books. An example of the latter is Miss Trenchbull (David Abeles in drag), the school’s autocratic principal who thinks of students as “maggots.”
Matilda’s parents don’t know quite what to do about their child prodigy. Mr. Wormwood (Quinn Mattfield) is proudly ignorant. He has never read a book and gets all the information he needs from the “telly” (television).
Mrs. Wormwood (Cassie Silva) is more sympathetic, but she is no match for her brainy daughter.
“Matilda” is allegedly a children’s novel, but as such it has some pretty dark and depressing stuff. I related uncomfortably to the character of Matilda, as I too had a habit of challenging teachers and making sarcastic remarks. I paid with “bad behavior” marks on my report cards. When I was just a year older than Matilda I had a showdown with a teacher who retaliated by making me attend detention after school, which left me stranded on the mainland when I missed the bus to home on the barrier island. A policeman rescued me.
“Matilda” will be coming back at a somewhat smaller venue; the Broward Center. The show is better suited for a smaller venue. The British accents are rather hard to decipher in a large auditorium. The songs by Tim Minchin are OK, but I was not left whistling any number. The choreography by Peter Darling is quite inventive, especially when the young children morph into young adults.

Tickets start at $28. Call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.

Get kinky in a Good Way With "Kinky Boots"

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“Kinky Boots” Even Better on Second Viewing

By Skip Sheffield

Sometimes the second time around is better.
The “Kinky Boots” company, appearing onstage through March 13 at Broward Center for the Arts, is essentially the same as I saw a year ago at Arsht Center in Miami. Maybe it’s because the Broward Center is a more pleasant venue. More likely it was because our seats were so much better (Orchestra, Row F). Whatever the reason, I loved this production even more on a second viewing. On the surface this show, with book by actor, playwright and gay activist Harvey Fierstein and music by “unusual girl” Cyndi Lauper, is a bit “kinky’ in the sense of unconventional.
The main star is a transvestite born Simon who calls himself Lola (J. Harrison Ghee). Lola is the star of an elaborate drag show with an all-male cast decked out in fancy ladies’ frocks and makeup. The “straight man” in more senses than one is Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan), whose family shoe business has been in operation for four generations in Northampton, England.
Both the business and Charlie’s father are failing. Cheap import shoes have ruined the market for fancy, hand-made British men’s shoes.
Charlie is engaged to marry Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), a bossy young woman who wants Charlie to move to London with her. Then Mr. Price (Tom Souhrada) dies, leaving Charlie as the last heir to Price & Sons Shoes.
Charlie soon learns the future for Price & Sons is even worse than he thought. On a chance meeting with Lola, who complains bitterly about the shoddy quality of the woman’s high-heeled boots he wears as his costume, Charlie gets a brainstorm: How about Price making fancy but sturdy boots catering to the male transvestite market?
Nicola is not keen on this idea, but Charlie perseveres, and in true musical theater tradition, he finds a sympathetic ally and love interest in factory worker Lauren (Tiffany Engen), who is much better suited to him than self-centered Nicola.
Cyndi Lauper’s songs are not exactly Rodgers & Hart or Hammerstein quality, but they are catchy and serviceable, with an instant anthem in the uplifting “Raise You Up/Just Be.” J. Harrison Ghee has a way with power ballads, including “Land of Lola,” “What a Woman Wants” and “Hold Me in Your Heart.”
Some people resist “Kinky Boots” because of its all-embracing moral stance. I think resistance is futile. This is the 21st century after all.
Tickets are $35 and up. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.