Friday, April 28, 2017

"Aida" as Told by Disney Through Slow Burn Theatre


All Hail “Aida” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre Company brings out all the bells and all the whistles for its production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” for its season finale, running through May 7 at Broward Center for the Arts.
The qualification of Elton John and Tim Rice is important, because “Aida” bears little resemblance to the opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi. This version, written by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, was based on a children’s storybook version of the opera, which was acquired by the Walt Disney Company with the aim of creating a stage musical. In short this is a simplified story that boils down to a love story that takes a tragic turn.
The star-crossed lovers are Aida (Khalifa White), a Nubian princess who is captured and forced into slavery in Egypt, and Radames (Stephen Millet), an Egyptian army captain who is engaged to Amneris (Amy Miller Brennan), daughter of the Pharaoh (Matthew Korinko). Slow Burn director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater had to go to Orlando to find Khalifa White, who is delicately beautiful with a powerhouse soprano.

Amneris is the very definition of spoiled princess whereas Aida is naturally noble. This is a welcome return to the stage for Amy Miller Brennan, who took off time to have a daughter. While her character is not sympathetic, Brennan finds the pathos in the haughty, materialistic princess with a stunning singing voice. In fact she starts the show with “Every Story is a Love Story,” which is a capsule definition of the plot.
Every story needs a villain. In this case it is Zoser (Larry Buzzeo), who is slowly poisoning the Pharaoh for his own gain. Every chorus needs a ringer. Kendra Williams is that person, exciting with her gospel-charged voice.
Viewers may have a sense of “déjà vu” with the music, especially if they have seen “Evita” and “The Lion King,” both of which had lyrics by Rice. Elton John favors show-stopping anthems, which makes this show as much concert as play. “The Gods Love Nubia” is one such anthem. It closes both Act One and Act Two. Close-harmony duets are also big, with “Written in the Stars” sung by Radames and Aida the best of the lot.
The bells are the elaborate sets by Sean McClelland and beautiful costumes by Rick Pena. The whistles are the unseen live band directed by ever-creative Manny Schvartzman. In short “Aida” is grade-A Disney entertainment as interpreted by our own Slow Burn Theatre. Tickets are $47-$60. Call 954-462-0222 or 800-745-3000.

Monday, April 24, 2017

RE-Live the 60s in Color and Black and White in "Beehive"


“Beehive” in Living Color at the Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

Talk about a colorful show; “Beehive” is it, playing through May 14 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
“Beehive” is more a musical revue than a full-on musical, directed by Jonathan Van Dyke. However the Wick production has so many bells and whistles, including split-second costume changes by seven enormously talented women, early 60s vintage television set pieces, video screen projections to accompany songs, and an onstage live band on a riser in the back to remind you this is live theater, not a recording.
Agent and producer Larry Gallagher created “Beehive” in the mid-1980s partly in answer to the popular male group revue, “Forever Plaid.” The show covers the decade from the innocent dawn of the 1960s to its turbulent finale amidst Vietnam War protests. The journey is enabled through popular “girl group” songs as well as emerging solo artists.
The show begins cleverly with a giant TV picture back drop with the seven stars of the show appearing in black-and-white as if on a 1960s variety show. A scrim is parted and the women appear in living color, in the first set of Technicolor costumes created by the theater’s own Kimberley Wick. You don’t have to be of a certain age to appreciate the show’s vintage hits, because they have become part of America’s soundtrack. The opening number is one of the few crafted especially for the show. Few people remember the name Shirley Ellis, but almost everyone recognizes her big hit “The Name Game.” This novelty tune serves as introduction to the seven cast members: Sarah Amengual, Amitria Fanae, Kristina Huegel, Shelley Keelor, Trisha Jeffrey, Mallory Newbrough and Leah Sessa. As the show unfolds each woman will reveal a special talent. Trisha Jeffrey is in the spotlight first, but it is with “Academy Award” that Trisha unveils her secret weapon: a thrilling gospel-powered wail that will amaze.
Kristina pays tribute to the late, great Leslie Gore with “It’s My Party” with Shelley, Leah and Mallory.
Amitria honors Motown with “Where Did Our Love Go” followed by “Come See About Me,” with Sarah and Trisha.
Adorable Leah commands the stage with “Walking in the Rain” and a cheeky “My Boyfriend’s Back.”
Shelley reveals her torch singer prowess with Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and she moves effortlessly to pop with “Then He Kissed Me.”
“Beehive Dance” is a one-off number that showcases the dancing talent of the ladies, choreographed by Angela Mordano-Taylor and the director.
In Act Two, Amitria channels Tina Turner with “River Deep Mountain High” and John Fogarty’s “Proud Mary.”
The mood turns more somber with headlines screaming the assassination of John F. Kennedy, then moves to the later 60s with Sarah’s salute to Aretha Frankin’s “Chain Of Fools” and Kristina’s tribute to Grace Slick in “Somebody to Love.”
Out of left field comes Mallory, paying tribute to tortured Janis Joplin, starting with a rafter-shaking “Cry Baby.” I am old enough to have seen Janis live once. By then her voice was ravaged. Mallory’s is not, but she shares Joplin’s passion and despair. It is a show-stopping moment.
“Beehive” has one show-stopping moment after another, finishing with Leah leading the parade with “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” backed by a crack ensemble led by Caryl Fantel. “Beehive” solves no world problems, but it lets you forget them for two hours or so.
Tickets are $75-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Katherine Heigl Gets Her Bitch On in "Unforgettable"


Katherine Heigl Ex-Wife From Hell in “Unforgettable”

By Skip Sheffield

Katherine Heigl is a first-class bitch. That is meant as a compliment.
Her hair bleached a ghostly white, Heigl plays Tessa Connover, the ex-wife from Hell in this movie by producer-turned director Denise Di Novi.
Tessa’s ex-husband David (Geoff Stults in perpetual stubble) has fallen for Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) and has decided to marry her. Tessa is having none of it. Using her daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) as a pretext, Tessa barges in regularly to her former home to needle and harass her successor. Then she gets really crazy.
Yes, Christina Hobson’s story goes off the deep end when Tessa breaks into David’s house and steals stuff to incriminate Julia. It is fun watching Katherine Heigl’s increasing madness. You just know Julia will finally pop and there will be an ultimate cat fight. “Unforgettable” is so over the top it becomes a comedy. Do real people act this way? Sadly, sometimes yes. Don’t ask me how I know.

Much has been written about how difficult and unlikeable actress Katherine Heigl is. That may well be true, but when she channels it into a screen role, she is a force to be reckoned with. “Unforgettable” is an unapologetically melodramatic film. It also answers the question “Whatever happened to Cheryl Ladd?” She plays Tessa’s mom.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Finding "The Lost City of Z" in the Heart of Darkness


“The Lost City of Z” a Masterpiece in the Jungle

By Skip Sheffield

“The Lost City of Z” sheds light on a legendary British explorer who is otherwise little-known outside of England.
The explorer was Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam.
Fawcett was the very picture of intrepid, fearless explorer. In 1906 the Royal Geographic Society enlisted him to map the uncharted territory bordering Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Fawcett responded with gusto, earning the approval of the Geographic Society and interesting the world press. In 1911, despite the fact he was happily married to Nina (Sienna Miller) and had two sons, he returned to the jungle with a new sidekick, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). In the depths of the jungle, Fawcett found shards of pottery and other clues there may have been an advanced society where “savages” now dwelled.
After volunteering for service for World War I, Fawcett returned to South America with Costin and a wealthy patron, James Murray (Angus Macfeyden). Murray proved no match for the jungle and its hardships. Fawcett sent him packing on his last surviving horse, prompting controversy back in England.
The back story of “The Lost City of Z” is as dramatic as the original. New York writer David Grann became obsessed with the story of Fawcett, who disappeared without a trace in 1925, along with his son Jack (Tom Holland). Grann tried to retrace Fawcett’s route. With additional research he had the basis for a feature he published in New Yorker magazine in 2005. He expanded it into a book in 2009.
Director James Gray caught the fever too, and proposed a shoot in the jungle using 35 mm film rather than digital. Fawcett’s route had been ruined by lumbering and development, but Gray shot in the still-pristine Colombian jungle.

At its core “The Lost City of Z” (the Brits pronounce it “Zed”) is a story about obsession. Obsession can border on madness, but it can accomplish miracles. Joseph Conrad explored such an obsession in “The Heart of Darkness,” set in Africa in 1899. “The Lost City of Z” is a “Heart of Darkness” for our time. It is a gorgeous, old-fashioned epic.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Anyone For Golf?


“Tommy’s Honour” and the Game of Golf

By Skip Sheffield

Like golf?
If you do you may like “Tommy’s Honour,” set in the birthplace of golf, Scotland, in the 19th century.
There are two Tommys in this historical film by Jason Connery: Tom senior (Peter Mullan) and Tommy junior (Jack Lowden).
Tom Morris was one of the originators of golf, but he was reduced to being a greens keeper for the rich men who kept the game going.
Tommy junior was a golf prodigy; a natural. As a boy Tommy was proving his prowess on the golf course enough to attract the attention of Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill), the wealthy, snooty, head of the golf association. Tommy gained national attention when he won the Scottish Open of 1868 with a hole-in-one, no less. Tommy is offered a position as a professional, but his dad thinks he is getting uppity, drinking too much and hanging out with shallow society types.

“Tommy’s Honour” covers his meteoric rise to legendary figure in the game of golf, first winning the Caddies’ Open and then the British Open in 1875. In the process he won the hand of a fair lass, Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond) who would become his wife at age 23. Tommy's triumph was not without its hardships and a short-lived tragic ending. Tom senior lived on and designed 70 golf courses. Both men have become a part of Scottish folklore that happens to be true. This is their story.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More Crashes Explosions and Mayhem in "Fate of the Furious"


By Skip Sheffield

Bam! Pow! Screech! Ka-boom!

That’s just about all you need to know about “Fate of the Furious.” This is chapter eight in the continuing saga of illegal street racers, starring Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as rival racers who are forced to work together.
Vin Diesel has been with the franchise since its beginning in 2001. He has also been producer of chapters four through eight. A unique fact about this film is that it is the first American film shot on location in Cuba in 50 years. In Chris Morgan’s sixth script, Vin Diesel’s character of Dominic “Dom” Toretto is newly-wed to his longtime girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). The honeymoon is interrupted when Dom is challenged to a race by a Cuban local. The race seems a mismatch. Dom is in a ramshackle 1950 Chevy versus a souped-up 1956 Ford. Ah, but Dom is resourceful. The franchise is based on amazing car stunts, each one more outrageous than the last. Dom and the CGI-enhanced car stunts never disappoint.
Dom is momentarily distracted from his racing and his honeymoon by a mysterious beautiful woman who coerces him into going in in cahoots with her. Turns out Dom has a son he never knew about, and the woman known only as Cipher (Charlize Theron) has him and his mother imprisoned.
Charlize Theron is one of the most beautiful villains in cinematic history. Her first lieutenant is a red-bearded madman known as Rhodes (Kristopher Hivju). The action shifts to Iceland, where Dom is ordered to steal a suitcase filled with codes for nuclear weapons. Production notes tell me the tech team set up the most spectacular explosion ever filmed in Iceland. I believe it.
In between there is a diversion and yet another spectacular car race on the streets of Manhattan.
Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Out Of Compton”) has the good sense to punch up the humor in the ridiculously far-fetched script. Dom has an able foil in Luke Hobbs, played by the massive Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Jason Statham returns for a few yucks as Deckard as do Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson as members of Dom’s merry band.

These F&F yarns always end inconclusively. Producer Diesel has stated there will be two more chapters before the cars go into the garage for good. We can look forward to them in 2018 and 2019. “Fast & Furious” became Universal Pictures most successful franchise of all time by 2015. Why would they kill a good thing?

Friday, April 7, 2017

All Is Not Calm "After The Storm"


See Real Japanese People in “After the Storm”

By Skip Sheffield

We Americans tend to think of Japanese people as orderly, conformist, polite and precise.
Japanese are fallible human beings after all. “After the Storm” captures the misadventures of one such imperfect man.
Shinoda Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is an underachiever and a screw-up. After an early book success, he still thinks he can make it as a novelist, but meanwhile he is working at a small detective agency and blowing most of his earnings on gambling. Hiroshi Abe is taller than the average Japanese man and quite good-looking. This is a two-edged sword, because he can get by on his charm but he falls short on the followup. It is interesting to note that writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda originally intended to be a novelist.
Inevitably Ryota has gotten behind in his child support payments and his ex-wife (lovely Yoko Maki) is at the end of her patience. Ryota can only be with his young son (Taiyo Yoshizawa) once a month. Despite a typhoon approaching (the storm of the title) Ryota insists on picking up his son and taking him to his elderly mother’s (Kirin Kiki) humble abode to ride out the storm.
At work Ryota’s boss (Lily Franky) is losing patience with his bright but irresponsible employee. Ryota gets an offer to write for a cheap comic magazine but he refuses, convinced he is destined for better things.
On the fateful night of the typhoon’s landing, Ryota’s ex-wife shows up at her ex mother-in-law’s place. Although she has moved on with another man, Ryota points out they will always be in each other’s life as parents to their son.

Playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, “After the Storm” offers a rare glimpse at how ordinary Japanese people live. They are not a whole lot different from you or me.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

ChallengeYour Brain in "Arcadia"


Ponder “Arcadia” Through April 30 at Palm Beach Dramaworks

By Skip Sheffield

Playwright Tom Stoppard is one clever chap… maybe too clever for his own good.
Palm Beach Dramaworks has bravely mounted Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning “Arcadia” through April 30 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. This play is complex, dense and sometimes confusing. Yet it has moments of high humor and style to burn.
It helps to have a passing knowledge of how things work in academia. A knowledge of English literature is helpful too, as is a familiarity with England’s class system that persists to this day.
“Arcadia” is set both in 1809-1812 and the present day in an English manor house, beautifully rendered by first-timer Anne Mundell. This can be a bit disorienting, because scenes change from more than two hundred years ago to present day in alternating fashion, except in the final scene when most all the characters appear together.
Costumes (Brian O’Keefe), lighting (Don Thomas) and sound (Steve Shapiro) are of paramount importance in this sensory experience. In some ways the characters are stock Brits, both in the past and the present.
In the past it is the characters of Thomasina Coverly (Caitlin Cohn) and her tutor Septimus Hodge (Ryan Zachary Ward) who are of primary interest. Thomasina at age 13 years and 10 months is both precocious and brilliant. Actress Caitlin Cohn is tiny and appears childlike, but with a resume of more than 25 productions, a membership in Actors’ Equity and Screen Actors Guild and an education at New York University, I’ll wager she is an adult very adept at playing much younger. At any rate she is totally believable as Thomasina, and she works in perfect concert with Ryan Zachary Ward, who realizes he has a prodigy on his hands.
Playing the thankless role of foolish third-rate poet Ezra Chater is Cliff Burgess, who does the fop thing well. James Andreassi is properly pompous as landscape architect Richard Noakes, whose plan to redo the gardens of stately Sidley Park from Classical to Romantic has the lady of the house, Lady Croom (Margery Lowe) in a swivet.
In the 21st century we have imperious Hannah Jarvis (Vanessa Morosco), who is undertaking a definitive history of Sidley Park, but clashes with the pompous, foppish professor Bernard Nightingale (Peter Simon Hilton), who is convinced Ezra Chater was killed in a duel by the renowned Romantic poet, Lord Byron.
In this segment we have another smart girl, Chloe (Arielle Fishman) and her even smarter brother Valentine (Britt Michael Gordon), who is undertaking an exhaustive study of the grouse population of Sidley Park. A younger brother Gus (Casey Butler) is mute.
Listening to the various dissertations and intrigues of the inhabitants of Sidley Park, I was reminded of the relatively modern “chaos theory,” which posits before any intellectual breakthrough there is a moment when the brain goes haywire. I suspect playwright Stoppard is familiar with this theory and he put it to good use in parodying the peccadilloes of Great Britain past and present.
At any rate “Arcadia” is a cerebral adventure with some sensuous delights.
Tickets are $66. Call 561-514-4042, ext. 2 or go to