Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Love at First Sight in Madison County


Love is a Fleeting Thing

By Skip Sheffield

Let’s have a forbidden fling. That is the essence of “The Bridges of Madison County,” playing through May 1 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
Robert James Waller had a 1992 best-seller about a chance encounter between a bored Iowa housewife and a photographer from National Geographic magazine.
A 1995 movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep became even more popular. The stage musical, with book by Marsha Norman (Pulitzer Prize-winner for “’night Mother”) and music by Jason Robert Brown (“Parade”) was mounted in 2014.
Elizabeth Stanley plays the role of Francesca Johnson, originally from Naples, Italy. It is the summer of 1965 and while her husband Bud (Cullin R. Titmas) and children are away at the Indiana State Fair, Robert Kincaid (Andrew Samonsky) pulls up in his pickup truck. Robert has located six of the seven covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa.. He asks Francesca if she knows where the seventh one, called Roseman Bridge, is. Francesca volunteers to show Robert where the bridge is. Later she invites him in for a home-cooked dinner. So begins a four-day fling that will be the romance of Francesca’s life.
Elizabeth Stanley is a marvelous operatic soprano. Andrew Samonsky is a worthy tenor and super good-looking guy. The two actors blend convincingly. Mary Callanan provides nice comic relief as snoopy neighbor Marge.
If you have ever had the advantage of a brief fling with someone who will stick with you forever, you will relate to “The Bridges of Madison County.” If you have not, you can still fanaticize. Love is fleeting but art is long.
Tickets start at $27. Call 561-832-7469 or go to

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Magical Power of Music in "Sing Street"

The Sing Street Band

“Sing Street” is the Power of Music

By Skip Sheffield

“Sing Street” could have been the story of my life, except it is set in Dublin, Ireland.
Writer-director John Carney has created another fable about the positive power of music, which he previously explored in “Once” and “Begin Again.”
This time it is a coming-of-age tale about a Dublin teenager, Conor (fresh-faced newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), whose family has fallen on hard times in the mid-1980s. His father Robert (Aiden Gillen) is an architect, but his commissions have dried up. Mother Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has been cut back to part-time employment. Conor’s older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) has dropped out of college. To cut back on expenses, Conor’s parents pull him out of his pricey Jesuit school and enroll him in the state-supported Christian Brothers School on Synge Street.
The new school proves troublesome. Conor is harassed by bullies and reprimanded by Brother Baxter (Don Wycherly) for not having regulation black shoes. The truth is Conor’s family can’t afford them.
On the positive side Conor meets beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton). In an effort to impress her, he offers her a role in his music video. The problem is he has no band. Conor has to improvise. With the help of his geeky new friend Darren (Ben Carolan), he puts together a band and goes for it.

This is where I really relate to “Sing Street.” As a young teenager I had no athletic abilities and I didn’t much enjoy the company of academic eggheads. With the help of my friend Marty Caron, I learned how to play guitar at age 14, which is the same age as Conor. At 15 Marty and I put together a band. It wasn’t to impress any girl in particular, but I learned girls in general like guys who play in bands. Music changed my life, and I have never let it go. I never will. I think John Carney understands.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Irving Berlin Forever


Irving Berlin Celebrated in “I Love a Piano”

By Skip Sheffield

The genius of Irving Berlin is beyond compare in American musical history. The never-ending creativity of this singular songwriter is on display in the joyous musical revue “I Love a Piano,” continuing through May 15 at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton.
There is no biographical stuff to clutter up the show. It is Berlin’s life story told through his songs by a singing and dancing cast of six, with onstage seven-piece band.
The show begins in the present, then immediately flashes back to 1910, with an even older upright piano as a centerpiece. One of the first songs, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” is familiar to anyone who has watched the Miss America Pageant.
The cast is roughly divided into ingénues (Caitlin Hornik, Ryan Patrick Lammer); a more mature couple (Karla Shook, Timothy Booth) and a romantic duo (Amelia Millar, Alex Jorth).
The songs are performed rapid-fire. Some are standards of the American Musical Songbook (“Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Always,” “White Christmas” and of course “God Bless America”). Others are quite forgettable (“Snooky Ookums,” “Two Cheers Instead of Three,” “Any Bonds Today”). Amelia Millar was a standout with her prat-falling comedy and her channeling of Kate Smith with “God Bless America.”
Caitlin Hornik and Karla Shook are quite attractive and agile dancers. Karla is the sister of Kelly Shook, who both directed and choreographed the show.
Irving Berlin became a virtual recluse after retiring in 1962. Ironically, this all-American composer was born in Russia. He moved to the USA as a child with his family in 1893. I was granted a phone interview with the great man the first time this musical revue came to Florida. Berlin stayed mentally sharp until his death at 101 Sept. 22, 1989. His legacy will last forever. “I Love a Piano” a most fitting tribute.

Tickets are $70-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elvis Meets Nixon, With a Little Help From Friends


A Monumental Meeting of Two Weird Dudes

By Skip Sheffield

Elvis Presley was one strange dude. Richard M. Nixon was even stranger. How fitting that the two odd ducks should meet in “Elvis and Nixon,” a new film by Liza Johnson. The script, written by Joey and Hanala Sagal, imagines the circumstances around the historic meeting of Elvis Presley and Nixon in December, 1970. The photograph taken of the meeting is the most requested image in the National Archives.
Playing Elvis is Michael Shannon, a man who looks not a bit like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Likewise Kevin Spacey does not much resemble Richard Nixon. For one thing, he is much better-looking.
None of this really matters, because “Elvis & Nixon” is played for laughs. Elvis by that point was one the down side of his career. The Memphis, Tennessee native was deeply conservative, despite his flamboyant lifestyle. Elvis was convinced America was going to Hell because of loose morals and rampant use of drugs.
Similarly Nixon was a hardcore right-winger who was contemptuous of the free love hippie lifestyle. The trick was getting these two characters together. Elvis was used to getting his way, and it never occurred to him getting an audience with the U.S. President might take some doing. Elvis imagined himself to be a perfect candidate for “Federal Agent at Large;” a post that did not exist. Enter Elvis’s handlers Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville). These guys knew Elvis better than he knew himself.
On the side of the President were yes-men Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters). They knew better than Nixon what was good for his public image.
It is one of my life’s regrets I never got to see Elvis perform. I could have gone to what turned out to be his last Florida appearance at West Palm Beach Auditorium. I just didn’t care.
Likewise I never saw Nixon in the flesh. I don’t think I missed much.

Liza Johnson has a playful sense of history and a keen sense of ironic comedy. Historical accuracy be damned, “Elvis and Nixon” is good fun.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kevin Costner Uglies Up to be a "Criminal"


Kevin Costner Uglies Up for “Criminal”

By Skip Sheffield

What is up with Kevin Costner? Is he trying to disavow his handsome movie star image?
One might think so from “Criminal,” Costner’s latest movie. Costner starts out as long-haired and bearded. Then his hair is shorn into an ugly buzz cut so his brain can be operated upon to implant the memories and experiences of another man.
The memories are from a CIA operative named Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds). Pope is killed before he can complete his mission of defeating a young hacker known as “The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt).
Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) is a death row inmate presumably assumed expendable. In this far-fetched fantasy by the late Douglas Cook, who died in 2015, and David Weisberg, who collaborated with Cook on “Double Jeopardy,” Stewart is operated upon by Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, looking more furrowed and wrinkled than ever) and implanted with the memories of Bill Pope in hopes Jericho can catch the dastardly Dutchman, It gets more confusing from there. Bill Pope had a beautiful wife named Jill (stunning Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who is Wonder Woman in the current “Batman vs Superman” movie). The director is another Israeli, Aviel Vroman, who previously collaborated with the screenwriters and Tommy Lee Jones on “Double Jeopardy.”
I couldn’t quite figure out who the character of Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) was supposed to be. I’m guessing a CIA muckety-muck, but much of the plot is murky. What is not murky is the special effects and “blow up real good” stunts. The setting is mostly in London, England, which is at least scenic.

Kevin Costner has had winners (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” and “Dances With Wolves), and he has had losers (“Waterworld,” “The Postman). I think “Criminal” ranks in the second category.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Sexy Dancing, Classic Music in "Dirty Dancing"


Sexy Dancing and 1960s Hits Propel “Dirty Dancing”

By Skip Sheffield

If you like sexy dancing and classic 1960s musical hits, “Dirty Dancing” is the perfect show for you.
Director James Powell cast the two leads to closely resemble the actors in the surprise 1987 sleeper hit movie. Rail-thin Rachel Boone has the kinky, curly hair of Jennifer Grey as Frances “Baby” Houseman. Christopher Tierney has the physical appearance and more important the agile, high-jumping dance moves of the late Patrick Swayze. Tierney even sounds like Swayze.
This fairy tale romance, with book by Eleanor Bergstein, is set at a Catskill resort in the summer of 1962.
“Baby” Houseman (Boone) is there with her parents, Dr. Jake Houseman (Mark Eliot Wilson) and Marjorie (Margot White) and a somewhat jealous older sister Lisa (Alex Scolari).
Johnny Castle (Tierney) is the resident dance instructor and object of desire for many of the female guests. There is a side plot involving Penny Johnson (Jenny Winton), who also is the most amazing female dancer in the show.
Baby is naïve in many ways, but not immune to the charms of Johnny Castle. When he takes a special interest in her and offers private dance lessons, Baby is a goner.
“Dirty Dancing” is powered by a parade of 1960s hits such as “This Magic Moment,” “Hey Baby” and “Cry to Me” as well as the smashing original finale number “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Outstanding soloists are Doug Carpenter and Adrienne Walker.
If you are of a certain age, this is all killer material. If you appreciate spectacular dancing, it doesn’t matter what your age is. “Dirty Dancing” is a winner.
Tickets are $30, $45, $65 and $105. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Dirty Dancing" at Broward Center


Rachel Boone and Christopher Tierny

“Dirty Dancing” the Musical at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

The phenomenon that was the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing” is now a stage musical coming to Broward Center for the Arts Tuesday, April 12 for an engagement through April 24.
Produced on a miniscule budget and shot in North Carolina, which is much cheaper than New York, “Dirty Dancing” was thought to be a direct-to-video movie. Surprise, the movie was a big hit thanks to the charisma of dancer-actor Patrick Swayze and his co-star Jennifer Grey, daughter of Broadway legend Joel Grey. Swayze became a star overnight and “Dirty Dancing” became the first movie to sell 1 million videos.
For the national tour, Christopher Tierny plays the Patrick Swayze role of dance instructor Johnny Castle. Rachel Boone is Frances “Baby” Houseman, the somewhat naïve guest to a Catskill resort where the help has after-hours parties where the “Dirty Dancing” of the title take place.
“It’s really, really a fun show,” says Rachel Boone, who has been with the tour since July 2014. “It’s a play with music. I don’t sing, but I get to dance with Christopher Tierny. He even sounds like Patrick Swayze.”
Patrick Swayze died prematurely at age 57 of pancreatic cancer Sept. 14, 2009. The character he created lives on after him.
“The dance numbers are really good, and so are the dancers,” says Boone, a North Carolina native. “The movie was filmed near where I grew up. Christopher is a fantastic, passion-filled dancer.”

Tickets are $30, $45, $65 and $105. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

Melissa McCarthy is "The Boss" From Hell

Kristen Bell and Melissa McCarthy Share a Laugh

Melissa McCarthy Cusses and Pratfalls Her Way Through “The Boss”

By Skip Sheffield

Melissa McCarthy is one funny, fearless and smart woman. She virtually single-handedly carries “The Boss,” which opens April 8.
Like Lucille Ball a couple generations before her, Melissa McCarthy is not afraid of making herself look foolish for a good laugh. She even wears a red wig, perhaps in homage.
The title character, Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), is a horrible woman. The story, co-written by McCarthy, Steve Mallory and director Ben Falcone (who happens to be McCarthy’s husband), begins in 1975 with a flashback of Michelle as a little orphaned girl who has been rejected by several foster families and always returns to Chicago’s Blessed Sisters of Mercy orphanage.
The story jumps ahead to 1985 with Michelle, now “the 47th wealthiest woman in America,” at the top of her game, making a grand entrance complete with fireworks and dancing girls before an adoring crowd. Then comes the fall. A little fellow and former lover who calls himself Renault (Peter Dinklage) rats on Michelle regarding insider trading. Michelle is busted and sent to federal prison for four months. It is enough to ruin her financially and she is forced to beg her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) to let her sleep on her sofa while Michelle tries to get back on her feet.
Claire is a single mom with a bright daughter named Rachel (Ella Anderson) who proves to be key to the regaining of Michelle’s pride and humility when Michelle decides to market Claire’s yummy brownies publicly. Michelle strong-arms a Girl Scout-like group called Dandelions to sell the brownies. A very tall girl named Chrystal (Eva Peterson) is her first lieutenant.

Logic is not a strong suit of “The Boss.” Raunchy, R-rated humor is, along with numerous pratfalls by Melissa McCarthy. This is nowhere near as good as “The Bridesmaids,” which also was a collaboration between McCarthy and Falcone, but it is a lot better than “Tammy,” about which the less said the better.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sex with S&M in "Smoke"


Take a Walk on the Wild Side With “Smoke”

By Skip Sheffield

Love hurts. “Smoke” is a play that takes that sentiment literally.
Kim Davies has written a two-character play that centers on the danger and thrill of mutual attraction. “Smoke” runs through April 17 at Arts Garage, 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach.
It’s a good thing Kim Davies is female. If a guy wrote “Smoke” he would be called kinky at best; misogynist at worst. Julie (Connie Fernandez) and John (Clay Cartland) are two New York hipsters who are attending a “sex party” in Harlem. What? You’ve never been to a sex party? Me neither, but the sex that occurs between these two consenting adults is mostly implied; not carried out.
Director Keith Garsson has a real find in Connie Fernandez, making her Arts Garage debut. To put it bluntly, this girl, who won her BFA from New World School of the Arts in 2014, is smoking hot. That befits her character, who flits about in a micro mini-skirt showing off beautiful gams.
Clay Cartland, who so memorably portrayed a slug in “The Trouble with Doug” at Art Garage, brings equal part of sex and menace to his character of John. Let’s just say conventional sex does not interest John. He likes danger, and inflicting pain.
If you are not into S&M, you won’t get what brings these two characters together. I read “The Story of O” as a teenager, and I get it. That story too was written by a woman.
What does it all mean? Search me. Forewarned is forearmed. This show is not for everyone. With two actors as attractive as Fernandez and Cartland acting out these improbable fantasies, it is at the very least diverting, and director Garsson has the good sense to stage it quickly in 80 minutes, without intermission. “Chacon a son gout,” as they say in France.
Tickets are $30 general admission, $40 reserved seat and $45 premium. Call 561-450-6357 or go to