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Archive for the ‘Local Theater Spotlight’ Category

Local Theater Spotlight: Beauty and the Beast

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Beauty and the Beast” isn’t necessarily my favorite Broadway offering, but it has some sentimental value for me personally, which is why I had to take part in it’s week-long run, currently housed at the Palace Theatre in Columbus, Ohio.

Though I’ve seen every Broadway tour to come through Columbus in the past six years, “Beauty and the Beast” is the only show I’ve actually seen on Broadway in the Big Apple, coupled with the fact that it was my favorite Disney movie growing up. I and my sisters often pranced about the living singing at the top of our lungs to Alan Menken’s popular score (much to my mother’s chagrin).

The 1994 Tony-winning, Broadway blockbuster beautifully transforms from the screen much to the work of it’s top class costume (Ann Hould-Ward) and scenic designs (Stanley A. Meyer). The stage becomes a masterpiece all its own.

Tim Rice joined the Academy Award winning team behind the movie to add seven new songs, but I wasn’t very impressed with the additions. Gaston’s “Me,” Belle’s “Home” and the Beast’s “If I Can’t Love Her” fall quite short in comparison to classics “Belle,” “Be Our Guest” and the title tune.

The cast however pulls out fantastic performances, especially Hilary Maiberger as Belle. It wasn’t until her act two aria “A Change In Me” did I really feel like I was watching a Tony-worthy showcase.

The show also infuses a healthy dose of comedy, which I appreciated.  Jeff Brooks as Gaston and Jimmy Larkin as his bumbling sidekick Lefou add hilarity with their Three Stooge-likes physical comedy exchanges.

“Beauty and the Beast” is definitely more of a showcase for your kids, the bright costumes and colorful moving backdrops, paired with the physical comedy will keep any 6-year-old on the edge of their seat, but as for me I’ll stick to with my fond memories of the film.

“Beauty and the Beast” runs through Oct. 14 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street, Columbus. Visit CAPA.com or Ticketmaster.com for more information. 

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Memphis’

Original Broadway cast members Montego Glover and Chad Kimball in “Memphis.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus

I’ve never been a comic book junkie but when it comes to theater I’ve always had my own personal Fantastic Four. “Rent.” “Chicago.” “Dreamgirls.” “Wicked.”  I’ve seen a lot of theater over the past several years. A LOT of theater. Most of it pretty good. But it’s never gotten better than those four for me. That is until I saw “Memphis” at the Ohio Theatre last night.

In Columbus on it’s Braodway tour until June 3, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan’s “Memphis,”  the story of radio DJ Huey Calhoun’s rise and fall from fame as the first white DJ to play “race music” in the 1950s,  is hands down the best musical I’ve ever seen.

The show opens with Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart) happening into a blue’s club and falling head over heels with the music and the club’s lead singer, Felicia (Felicia Boswell). Huey and Felicia’s love story takes a bumpy ride through history, all the while Huey uses his DJ career to promote the “Music of [His] Soul,” placing him and local R&B artists on the front lines of fame and racism in 1950s Memphis, Tennessee.

I have to admit I had s0me doubts going in. This 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical has a synopsis that reads like an unintentionally racist headline. “White man saves black music.” But much ado is given to the true originators of rock ‘n’ roll, the black southern blues musicians of the time period. And there’s no denying the stellar talent, music and choreography that makes this show breathtaking.

It’s been circulating among critics that the “Memphis” tour is even better than the Broadway original. And after perusing a dozen or so YouTube videos, I’m inclined to agree.

The ensemble is replete with powerhouse vocalists, led by Bryan Fenkart and Felicia Boswell as star-crossed music lovers Huey and Felicia. Fenkart is charming in the bumbling idiocy of Huey, a poor kid who happens upon local fame. It’s his astounding vocal range and wide-eyed wonderment that keeps the show endearing. And Boswell is a ball of fierce tenacity that you can’t keep your eyes off of. Her first-act aria, “Colored Woman,” not only steals the show, but your heart as well.

Supporting players Quentin Earl Darrington (Delray, Felicia’s overprotective club-owner brother), Rhett George (Gator, “Delray’s” breakout bartender) and Will Mann (Bobby, radio station janitor turned Calhoun’s crowning co-host) also showed vocal prowess, especially George, who had much of the audience in tears after his leading moment in act-one closer “Say a Prayer.”

It’s the Tony-winning score, however, that makes “Memphis” a true delight. Blues, jazz, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll are all rolled into a host of feel good inspirational tunes. It definitely feels a lot like the message of “Hairspray” mixed with the soul of “Dreamgirls,” but keeps the energy at a high-octane level throughout.

Paul Tazewell’s Tony Award nominated costumes light up the stage with a distinct period finesse, while David Gallo (scenic design), Howell Binkley (lighting design) and Ken Travis (sound design) create a powerful audio visual experience that is goosebumps-inducing all its own.

If “Memphis” comes through your town, or anywhere near your town, you must indulge. It was this season’s must-see tour and you need to believe the hype.

“Memphis” runs at Ohio Theatre through June 3. Tickets start at $28. For more information visit www.ticketmaster.com.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘The 39 Steps’ by CATCO

Paul Riopelle, Jeff Horst and Ben Gorman in “The 39 Steps” by CATCO

For their season closer CATCO is in the midst of running fan favorite “The 39 Steps,” a stage spoof of the famous Alfred Hitchcock film by Patrick Barlow.

A 2008 Tony Award winner, the production is one of the longest running plays on Broadway and has been known to be a universal crowd-pleaser.

The story follows Richard Hanney (Ben Gorman) an ordinary fellow who only wishes for a night of “mindless pleasure” at the theater, but finds himself on the lam after being framed of murder. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

Four actors (Gorman, Ginna Hoben, Paul Riopelle, Jeff Horst) play all 150 of the show’s characters, making the quick-change it’s own art form. Parts of the script oftne force the actors the change characters throughout the same scene.

CATCO’s production is pretty solid. Gorman skews slightly older than most “Hanneys” I’ve seen, but does well wearing the character’s absent-minded charm. Hoben (last seen in the AMAZING production of “Next Fall“) is a delight as ALL the female roles, especially as the thick-accented Annabella Schmidt. Riopelle and Horst are also a riot as Clown #1 and Clown #2 taking on the bulk of the show’s characters.

CATCO’s typically phenomenal set designs didn’t disappoint this time either. Designers Brad Steinmetz and Jacque Nelson add 1930s period Britain nuance and the stage hands often become part of the production changing sets intricately about the players as the show in play. Director Steven C. Anderson does well to keep the action moving at a swift pace, while still keeping impeccable comedic timing.

Definitely add “The 39 Steps” to your early summer lineup, you won’t be disapointed.

CATCO presents “The 39 Steps” through June 3 in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Tickets are $11 to $40. For more information visit www.catco.org.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Reefer Madness’ by Shadowbox Live

Mary Randle, Renee Horton, Tom Cardinal and Jamie Barrow in Shadowbox Live’s “Reefer Madness”

Shadowbox Live is in the throes of another hit with their latest Sunday musical, “Reefer Madness,” the 2001 Off-Broadway musical spoofing the 1930’s PSA meant to scare adolescents away from smoking marijuana.

The original PSA adds manslaughter, suicide, rape and cannibalism to the munchies and apathy as side effects of marijuana use. Watching it now, the blatant fear-mongering seems ridiculously over the top, a concept the musical plays off of well.

The storyline follows high school student Jimmy Harper (Jamie Barrow) as he descends from straight-and-narrow to an alleged murderous criminal because of his addiction to “the reefer,” pulling his unsuspecting golden girlfriend,Mary Lane(Renee Horton), down with him.

The score be-bops much like a mix of “Grease” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” especially sprightly songs like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Mary Jane/Mary Lane.”

The Shadowbox Live cast nails the musical’s over-the-top innuendo and period attitudes. Barrow and Horton are a perfect duo and the leading couple. Kudos to director Julie Klein for putting two of Shadowbox’s typical second stringers in the starting lineup. Barrow was born for this role, nailing Harper’s nerdy charm and good-boy-gone-bad dalliances, while Horton’s overt ray of sunshine as the ditzy Mary never wanes or becomes annoying, as it easily could.

By definition “Reefer Madness” is an envelope-pusher that stays in the realm of the absurd and is known by some critics to be too bizarre, but in the hands of Shadowbox it becomes a beautifully ridiculous ode to the ignorance behind fear-based propaganda, and a damn good night at the theater.

“Reefer Madness” runs at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front Street, Columbus, through July 8. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students/seniors. For more information visit www.shadowboxlive.org.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Love in the Age of Clamor’ by A&B Productions

Colleen Sharkey McElligott, Joe Dallacqua and Nick Baldasare in “Love in the Age of Clamor” by Bill Cook.

If you’ve heard of A&B Productions, you may think the Columbus-based theater company has seemingly materialized out of thin air. That’s because it has. “Love in an Age of Clamor” writer Bill Cook created A&B for the purposes of staging his first show in Columbus with plans to use the company to stage more of his upcoming works. (The Van Fleet Theatre at the Columbus Performing Arts Center is currently hosting “Clamor” through May 26.)

For what I can only assume was a favor, Joe Bishara has put the entire weight of CATCO/Phoenix behind “Clamor,” directing, casting and offering it space at the center. It’s definitely commendable that they’re supporting local talent, but it begs the question, why Cook? There are plenty of local playwrights they could support. But that’s another story for another time. (I could simply call Bishara and ask—yes, I got it like that—but working three jobs and being lazy has its consequences.)

All sleuthing aside, “Clamor” is actually pretty amazing. After five years of critiquing Columbus theater, you come to expect a certain quality from certain theater companies, but A&B offered a blank slate. To amaze or to crash and burn, was the question. And they amazed.

A humanities professor at Columbus State Community College, Cook’s writing is swift, witty and revealing; and the show’s three actors were phenomenal. That’s enough to consider it a hit inColumbus. It’s too bad the opening night house was pretty bare; A&B may be suffering from lack of name recognition.

Nick Baldasare anchors the show as Lawrence Bodkin, a man who spends much of his time pontificating through a midlife crisis. His wife suddenly leaves him for a hunky personal trainer and he finds himself on a weird, and often times hilarious, dreamlike journey through self discovery. Colleen Sharkey McElligott and Joe Dallacqua are dizzying with talent as they quick-change through several characters. Seriously. Every time you blink they’re in a new costume.

The disillusion of middle-aged love is as clichéd and overdone as love stories, but Cook puts a spin on the topic; and the actors commitment to their many characters and the absurdity of their situations makes it all the more worthwhile.

Bishara leaves the stage is pretty bare with only a few rotating chairs and other amenities (suitcase, cell phone) to provide setting, forcing the audience to focus on the actors and Cook’s words. In an age of flashy attention deficits, three actors and a script are a lot to depend on to adequately entertain, but “Clamor” delivers.

So head over the CPAC and give A&B a chance. With the Bishara and CATCO/Phoenix seal of approval, you can’t go wrong.

“Love in an Age of Clamor” runs May 11-26 in the Van Fleet Theatre at the Columbus Performing Arts Center,549 Franklin Ave.,Columbus. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students. For more information visit facebook.com/abtheatricalproductions.  Check out a video preview of the show below.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Bad Seed’ by TAPA

Shaunessey DeRosa and Ernie Nicastro in “Bad Seed” by TAPA

TAPA (The Academy for Performing Arts) has definitely become the little theater company that could. They continue to adequately produce full-fledged classic plays and musicals (“The Glass Menagerie,” “Scrooge the Musical”) on a shoestring budget with only the help of ticket sales and their donors.

Knowing this before I stepped into “Bad Seed”—their season-closer showing through May 13 at TAPA Theatre, 1230 Oakland Park Ave.—I was thoroughly surprised by the lavish sets and some of the amazing talent that graced the stage.

Maxwell Anderson’s hit 1955 Broadway play chronicles the tale of a seemingly perfect 1950s suburban home. A “Leave It to Beaver”-style family—military father, a doting wife and a cute 8-year-old daughter in blonde pig tales—open the show to their daily Cleaver-like routines. It first reminds you of “Our Town” but soon a young boy from the local grade school is found drowned in a nearby lake and evidence quickly begins to point to the 8-year-old girl.

Mysteries from the girl’s and the mother’s past are revealed that show a pattern of murder that could be hereditary, calling into questions whether the daughter’s acts are triggered by nature or nurture.

TAPA puts on a sound production. The plush stage is perfectly set by Don Roberts, who acts as director and set designer, and the costumes adequately represent the era.

Shaunessey DeRosa is perfectly creepy as Rhoda Penmark, the 8-year-old villain. Her smile and disposition stays painted and perky even when admitting to her mother that she’s committed murder.

Ginny Cipolla also shines as Monica Breedlove, the nosey and annoying neighbor quick with an opinion. She helps to offer a bit of comedic relief to the otherwise frightful tale. And Cheryl Muller, as the grieving Mrs. Daigle, also puts in a few scene-stealing moments, bursting in on Mrs. Penmark in a drunken stupor to seek answers from her daughter.

The production is far from perfect, a few lags in energy, some dropped lines and misplaced sound cues muddle the storyline, but overall it’s a trilling and well executed sleuth that worth the city’s attention.

TAPA’s “Bad Seed” runs through May 13 at TAPA Theatre, 1260 Oakland Park Ave., Columbus. Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for children/seniors. For more information call 614-783-3955 or visit www.tapacolumbus.wordpress.com.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom’ by Available Light Theatre

Drew Eberly and Acacia Duncan in “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” by Available Light Theatre

Disney World becomes the root of all evil in Available Light Theatre’s new stage adaptation of Cory Doctorow’s cult sci-fi novel “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,” running through May 12 in Studio Two of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street, Columbus.

Jump ahead to the 22nd century and according to Doctorow age is merely a number and death a choice one simply makes once all is accomplished or you’re simply done trying. Money is now whuffie (a vague concept left up to the audience for interpretation); and people are walking computers, making telepathic phone calls with the tap of the temple and projecting thoughts and information onto the air directly from the retina.

Drew Eberly stars as Julius, an engineer living and working in Disney World, well past 100 years old. Julius is “murdered” and after “rebooting” (dying is simply a construct that can be remedied by cloning and transference of data) nearly goes insane trying to prove the possible conspiracy behind his third death.

Julius’ long-lost best friend, Dan (Ian Short) returns only to call him crazy while conspiring behind his back, and he’s also cheating with Julius’ girlfriend, Lil (Acacia Duncan). From Julius’ perspective, the future sucks. Which may be a part of the writer’s overall thesis.

It’s pretty clear that Doctorow has traded George Orwell’s Big Brother for technology as the evil that will take control of the future. Not only will it dictate our lives but we will become the computers we’ve come to depend on.

Director Matt Slaybaugh transforms Studio Two of the Vern Riffe Center into a futuristic oasis and creatively intertwines audio visuals with the action on stage. Three LCD screens, one backdrop sized is placed center stage and two smaller screens flank each side of the theater, display flashbacks, future-esque Disney World landscapes and efficiently signal the passing days.

The Available Light cast is also in rare form. It was refreshing to see oft-unused Eberly in the leading role. He perfectly parlays Julius’ paranoia and heartbreak over the changing times and the betrayal by his loved ones. Duncan embodies the flighty youth and vulnerability of Lil, while Short showcases his own vulnerability as a man at the end of his rope, contemplating “deadhead” (the future’s solution to assisted suicide). Michelle G. Schroeder is also diabolically delicious as Debra, a forward-thinking businesswoman who only sees Julius as a threat to progress.

Available Light is typically at its best when they’re putting their special twist on literature or social woes, and “Magic Kingdom” is no exception. So do yourself a favor and take a trip to the 22nd century, it’s definitely worth the whuffie.

Available Light Theatre’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” runs through May 12 in Studio Two of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street, Columbus. Tickets are $20 in advance or on their popular Pay What You Want System at the door. For more information  call 614-558-7408 or visit avltheatre.com