Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spotlight On...Joseph Reese Anderson

Name: Joseph Reese Anderson

Hometown: I was born in Chicago, but I'm calling Raleigh, NC my hometown now.

Education: I went to East Carolina University, where I double-majored in Acting and Musical Theatre. I had a minor in Exercise Science.

Favorite Credits:
I've got lots of performance credits that I love. Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus, Coalhouse in Ragtime, Miles Gloriosus in Funny Thing ..., but I have to admit that my favorite credit has to be as lyricist for Fatty Fatty No Friends. I've written lyrics before, but this is the first time I've written all the lyrics for a show. It's really a special and wonderful experience for me.

Why theater?:
I crashed a cast party once, and met some of the most passionate, optimistic, and kind people I'd ever known. They changed and, I believe, saved my life.  I dove into the theatre and never looked back.

Tell us about Fatty Fatty No Friends?: Fatty Fatty No Friends is sort of a dark fairy tale. The story follows Tommy, a meek, socially awkward, husky kid through a day at school.  The taunting is relentless, like it is every day.  As in all theatre, however, this is the day that something special happens. Something different. And it's absolutely delicious.

What inspired you to write Fatty Fatty No Friends?: It was Christian DeGre, actually, that suggested the idea.  He'd been teased that night, playfully, and I think he just heard music in it.  Christian and I have worked on many different projects, but the first we ever worked on together was about the awkwardness and social purgatory that is middle school.  This is when we were writing for The Nitestar Program, now just Star.  For the first couple years of our collaborations, these themes were always in the forefront of our imaginations.  So, years later, when the idea surfaced that we should write a musical about a day in the life of a tormented child, it was a natural choice.  It felt relevant, dark, funny, and meaningful all at the same time right off the bat.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: My first love is Shakespeare, but really love it all.  I've been blessed with an incredible lack of disbelief, and I get really into the stories. I'm inspired by people. People are interesting, meaningful, courageous, vulnerable, funny.  Everyone has a story to be told.  Sometimes they are epic, sometimes they are tragic, and sometimes they are as cute as can be, but all are worth exploring.  All are worth telling.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Stephen Sondheim. Honest,versatile, tremendously talented. I would learn everything I could from that man. I'd also love to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: In this year's Fringe Festival, besides Fatty Fatty No Friends, I'm really excited about a musical called Vestments of the Gods.  Phenomenal playwright (Owen Panatieri) and director (Joey Brenamen) that I've had the honor of working with before. I think it's going to be wonderful.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: My friends always tell me it would be Dwayne Johnson.  I don't think I could live up to that, but let's go with it. It would be a story about a kid that grew up in poverty and gang violence that found asylum in the elegantly phrased love and rage of Shakespeare. He tries to leave the life to pursue the arts, and it keeps following him wherever he goes. I'll call it "Twelfth Night on the Run". Hmm, I might give The Rock a call and see how he feels about it. Ha!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: The Simpsons. I've seen every episode multiple times. It comes on a few times a day on various channels, and I DVR all of them.  I've been watching pretty much since the beginning. "Family Guy" too, but "The Simpsons" wins. Oh, and whiskey, too.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: I wish I could answer that, but Pandora has made me all but stop actually selecting music to play.  I listen mostly to Eminem, John Legend, and Amos Lee radio.

If you weren't working in theater, you would be _____?:
I once had a charity company that I loved. I had to let it go because I just had too much on my plate at the time.  But if I had my choice of alternative career, I'd definitely pick it back up again.

What’s up next?: I'm working on another musical, actually. It isn't titled yet, but it has to do with a man who is falsely imprisoned. That's been a bit of a pet project for me for a while, so who knows, maybe something else will happen before then.

Spotlight On...Samantha Strelitz

Name: Samantha Strelitz

Hometown: Long Beach, California

Education: New York University alum

Select Credits: Death for Sydney Black (TerraNOVA RX Series), Pilo Family Circus (Godlight Theatre Company, New Ohio Theater), Placebo (Official Selection CIFF), Plurality (Radical Media)

Why theater?: Theater is an extraordinary medium. Collaborative, thought provoking, visceral and ephemeral. If you are lucky enough to be part of something that you really believe in- then for the duration of the production you are a fully realized character alongside amazing contemporary artists. I find it fascinating.

Who do you play in The Qualification of Douglas Evans?:
I play the role of Cara, one of the women in Douglas’ life. I won’t go beyond that to spoil anything for you.

Tell us about The Qualification of Douglas Evans: The Qualification of Douglas Evans is the brainchild of Derek Ahonen. It follows the life of an artist who moves to New York to pursue acting and ends up struggling with ideas of personal career expectations amidst a string of female relationships, substance abuse and the constant impact of his parent’s approval.

What is it like being a part of The Qualification of Douglas Evans?: I have wanted to work with The Amoralists for a long time. From the masterful direction of James Kautz, to the authority and flexibility Derek has about his work and the incredible ensemble they cast- I have really reveled in this experience.  It’s gritty and raw and unapologetic in its message and I believe that is why it has had such a powerful response.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theater that doesn’t give us easy answers. I am inspired by stories that expose me to worlds I am unfamiliar with. But overall, across the board- if I can be entertained by incredible, committed artists- I can be watching buskers in the subway and have a great time.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: If they ever filmed a re-boot of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” (which I hope to God they never do), I would be beside myself to play Baby Jane Hudson. Also, Sharon Tate.

What’s your favorite showtune?: “Man of La Mancha” performed by Linda Eder.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Woody Allen, Lars Von Trier, Todd Haynes, Derek Cianfrance, Brit Marling and Mike Cahill, Julianne Moore. Can we revisit this question in five years?

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would forfeit the right to have a movie made about my life if I could play Stevie Nicks in a film about hers. Title, TBD.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Here Lies Love at The Public. It’s an interactive disco musical about Imelda Marcos. Enough said.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: “Work” by Iggy Azalea. She’s my spirit-animal.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Housing Works. Any one of my friends can tell you that I have a soft spot for consignment stores, flea markets, vintage and the like. I can rummage through old pictures or bags of buttons for well over an hour. I am a secret hoarder.

What’s up next?: Last month I shot the pilot for the new HBO Untitled Rock N’ Roll series. So I am looking forward to tuning in when it airs.

For more on Samantha, visit SamanthaStrelitz.com. For more on The Amoralists, visit theamoralists.com

Review: Night of the Living Twerkers

Zombies will never die. They seem to have a cult following that inspires artists to use them as inspiration. In the latest attempt to capitalize on the zombie fad, Zombie Strippers follows a group of twentysomethings into a graveyard late at night, or super early in the morning, as they scramble from strippers turned zombies.
With a book, music, and lyrics by Mark LaPierre, Zombie Strippers is a try-to-be youthful attempt at giving zombies a fresh spin. But instead, Zombie Strippers is a mishmash of unfunny set to an electronic dance music soundtrack. The “Scooby Doo” like plot follows Tiffany, a scantly clad stripper, and her boyfriend, Playya, with two y’s, as she goes to the graveyard to pay respects to three of her fallen comrades from the strip club. Only Tiffany, who happens to be pretty dumb and lack any common sense, believes the funeral to be at 4:00am, the time when the zombies roam. As Tiffany and Playya run from her zombie friends, she stumbles into her former school pal Jinx, with a wacky secret of her own, who is hoping to have a threesome in the graveyard with breakdancing Brett and squeaky-clean Tim. With a plot so insane, you would hope that the musical was campy. Unfortunately, camp is very far and few between, making the script cringe worthy at times. Certain characters are built more for the campy nature this musical so desires, but others, primarily Jinx, are so straight that the intent of the musical becomes lost. Additionally, there are times the electronic pop score feels so out of place you have to wonder if a zombie musical was truly the right setting for this style of music.
photo courtesy of Benn Strothman
Despite the script issues, the cast was filled with some devoted actors. Ellie Bensinger and Joshua Stenseth as Tiffany and Tim, both of whom were given the most material to campify, offered some of the best moments on stage. Bensinger, looking like she stepped out from a Rock of Ages open call, was genuine and played up her character’s stupidity. Stenseth’s pure voice aided greatly to his sweet and sincere character. Ryan Farnsworth embraced Playya going all out to play the loveable douchebag. Jinx, played with conviction by Sariah, may have been the most confusing character but Sariah’s pop vocal background gave the character life.
Director Diane Englert seemed to struggle with the overall objective of the material. With such an array of variety on stage, the energy and stakes were severely lacking. The “Scooby Doo” staging was funny at first but became repetitive. But to be fair, there was only so much you can do with the basic graveyard set by Will Pike. To the production’s advantage, the choreography by Kelby Brown was fantastic. When you die and turn into a zombie, you apparently also develop killer break dancing and twerking skills and Brown’s zombie trio were pros at it. Brown’s mix of zombie and dance were a cohesive blend.
Musical theater is changing. With new advances and trends, new musical styles will inevitably develop. But if there is one thing that should quickly be removed from the equation, it’s zombies. Zombies and musical theater are just not a good mix. And unfortunately Zombie Strippers is just another failed attempt at being current.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Spotlight On...Jesse Schreck

Name: Jesse Schreck

Hometown: New York, NY

Education: Yale University, B.A. (almost!) in American Studies

Favorite Credits: Fall of Man (Yale Playwrights Festival), "Underachievers" (short film), Generations (Yale Dramatic Association Experimental Production)

Why theater?: I really like the constraint of “this has to take place on a stage in real time,” but mostly I just think I’m a left-brained person who stumbled onto a right-brain hobby, and then spent enough time on it for it to become a practicable (and exciting and challenging!) form of expression.

Tell us about Fortuna Fantasia?: Fortuna Fantasia is my second full-length play. The first one was a very overwrought and heavy-handed drama; this one is a madcap comedy, and I’m relieved to say that I’m very proud of it. (I feel like the word “madcap” makes me sound like I’m from vaudeville or something, but my computer’s thesaurus is telling me that my other options are “harebrained” and “foolhardy,” so what are you gonna do.) The play tells the story of a young couple named Claire and Jeffrey, beginning with their breakup (when Jeffrey proposes and Claire says no) and ending when they get back together (we’re told this at the beginning, so I promise I’m not ruining anything). BUT what’s DIFFERENT and EXCITING about this show is that the whole thing is run by a Fate-like narrator called the Ringmaster, who pushes the plot to fun crazy places. For example, he engineers things so that Claire gets arrested, and so that Jeffrey gets kidnapped at one point by a very determined, very paranoid woman named Kathleen. Basically, I wanted Claire and Jeffrey to seem like real, normal people, and using the Ringmaster as a framing device allowed me to put them in RIDICULOUS situations without making their world feel totally implausible.

What inspired you to write Fortuna Fantasia?: Honestly, I just wanted to write something genuinely funny. Pretty much every time I’ve been consciously “inspired” by an image or idea, the thing I end up writing feels mechanical and derivative. With Fortuna Fantasia, for the first time, I tried to just follow my gut (with a LOT of guidance from my theater group, Common Room). Looking back, I can tell that I was working through questions I had about randomness, and about what it means to have autonomy when your experiences (and so your identity) are based so much on chance. I think those are pretty standard worries (especially for a neurotic college student), but because I was just trying to write the funniest thing I could—the thing that would make me laugh the most—I was able to process and play with those questions without even knowing it, in a more real and honest way.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Oh man. The first playwright I connected with was Chris Durang (I played Jim—the climax of my acting career—in my high school basement’s production of Wanda’s Visit), and the two other playwrights I’ve since felt that strongly about are Tony Kushner and Edward Albee. I assumed Tony Kushner was gay when I read Angels in America—I mean, duh—but I’d never thought about Albee or Durang, and I was shocked when my roommate was like “of COURSE they’re gay.” I’m wary of the term “gay aesthetic” because I’m worried it homogenizes and limits an incredibly diverse set of works, but there’s something magical about how these three writers are able to use such giant, campy, uber-theatrical characters and dramatic structures so incredibly precisely in order to access very deep, subtle truths.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: When I was in tenth grade, I tried to make everyone read Hedda Gabler because I wanted to show off that I’d read Hedda Gabler. More recently, I really loved David Ives’s Venus in Fur.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:
I outsourced this question to a bunch of strangers, and by far the most common answer was “a combination of Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep.” The movie would be called "Fight Club Wears Prada" (bud-dum-bum).

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Taking pee breaks when I don’t need to pee.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?:
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift. I sing it in a German accent, which like, I could’ve put that as my guilty pleasure, but that would have been a lie.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Going to graduate school, probably for American Studies! (That’s the plan right now, anyway—I’d love to one day be a badass professor who writes plays on the side.)

What’s up next?: I’m making some final revisions to Fortuna Fantasia before we start rehearsing for the New York City Fringe Festival production (!), which is happening in August. Speaking of which, come to the Fringe Festival! While you’re there, you should also check out Dust Can’t Kill Me and His Majesty, the Baby, two other Fringe shows from Yale!

For more on Fortune Fantasia, visit www.fortunanyc.com and www.facebook.com/fortunanyc

Spotlight On...Ben Durham

Name: Ben Durham

Hometown: Santa Barbara, California

Education: Bachelor of the Arts in Theatre from California State University, Long Beach

Select Credits: Tuck Whitney in Me Love Me, Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Sam-I-Am in Dr. Seuss on the Loose

Why theater?: My 5th grade teacher got me hooked on the drug that is an audience when she cast me as Sam-I-Am in a Dr. Seuss show she wrote. I've tried being away from theater a number of times, but I'm always drawn back to it's immediacy, and it's ability to challenge its audience in ways no other art form can.

Who do you play in NO HOMO?: I play Luke, the beautiful and misunderstood computer programmer who has a soft spot in his heart for his best friend Ash.

Tell us about NO HOMO: NO HOMO is a hilarious exploration of relationships. What happens when two straight men who are best friends delve deeper into what it means to love each other, how deep can they delve, and can they climb back out without destroying everything?

What is it like being a part of NO HOMO?: Hilari-freakin-ous! Every moment of the process with this show has been an amazing experience. I'm surrounded by hilarious and incredibly talented people, who keep me entertained always.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am all about the type of theater that can walk the line between being funny and touching all in the same moment. Especially when you feel a little guilty about laughing. Jim Carrey. Yes, he inspires my desire to perform. Alllllrighty then!

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I've always wanted to play Chris in All My Sons, and Jamie in The Last 5 Years

What’s your favorite showtune?: "Confrontation" from Jekyll and Hyde. Easily.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Sir Patrick Stewart.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Joseph Gordon Levitt would star in the movie, "Ego: The story of the humblest man in the world"

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Nikolodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender". That is one well made show.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?
: I've been obsessed with Fun's 'Carry On' for the last few months.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Playing dungeons and dragons with some of my closest friends from college

What’s up next?:
I'll be jumping behind the scenes to travel with 24th Street Theater's show Walking the Tightrope.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Spotlight On...Jonny Rodgers

Name: My parents dubbed me Jonathan, but everyone calls me Jonny Rodgers.

Hometown: I grew up in many places, but the town that feels most like home is Amherst, MA.

Education: I was a theater major at Occidental College.

Select Credits: I was Julien in Ken Roht’s Miss Julie(n), I was one of three performers in an ensemble show that was a collection of Shel Silverstein’s works called Daddy, What If?, and while there are many others, those are the only two I’m unwaveringly proud of.

Why theater?: It didn’t used to be theater. It used to be that theater was just “what I’m doing for now until I start my real career in film,” but I’ve recently come to the realization that the actual presence of the performers, and their direct relationship with their audience, is something that cannot be duplicated in any medium besides live performance. This dynamic is, to me, of the utmost importance if a truly lasting and honest impression is to be made through my acting work.

Who do you play in NO HOMO?: I play Ash, Luke’s best friend and roommate.

Tell us about NO HOMO: NO HOMO is a play that examines the truly dynamic nature of sexuality and love, and how one’s relationships can be affected by that ever-shifting part of one’s perceived identity.

What is it like being a part of NO HOMO?: This is the most fun I’ve ever had on an artistic project, and it’s because of the collaborative, open approach that has been taken in the creation of the piece. Everyone’s voice is in it, and we’re just constantly playing, which is, in my opinion, how a play should be.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m most interested in theater that is true to life, that makes you think about and examine your own life, as well as humanity as a whole. I’m also extremely interested in theater that defies genre and forces new neural pathways, and new perspectives, to form in the audience members. I hope to engage in creating this type of theater as I develop into a more complete artist/human.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Javert from Les Miserables. I’ll have to wait a couple decades though. Or else Melchior from Spring Awakening, which I could do now.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Stars, from Les Mis. Or Purple Summer from Spring Awakening.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Anne Bogart.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Neil Patrick Harris. It would be called “Jonny Rodgers wishes he were Neil Patrick Harris.”

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
I’m a big fan of Martin Mcdonagh’s The Pillow Man. And in case you meant TV Shows, I will always emphatically recommend either incarnation of Cosmos.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: I honestly have no idea. If I had to guess it would be Let It Be by those british guys.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
Meat. Juicy red meat.

What’s up next?: A project called Space House, written by my best friend and roommate (in real life).

Spotlight On...Jack Karp

Name: Jack Karp

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Education: M.F.A. in Creative Writing from American University

Favorite Credits: One of this year’s winners of the Ashland New Play Festival. Incendiary Agents produced at the New Ohio Theater by NyLon Fusion Theatre Company (2013), Irreversible staged readings at the Great Plains Theatre Conference (2013) and Ashland New Plays Festival (2014), Sleeping with Strangers produced at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival (2011).

Why theater?: There are many reasons why I am attracted to theater, but the most powerful is that I am fascinated with the electricity that comes from having live action in front of a live audience. There is a connection and danger inherent in that dynamic that lends theater an emotional punch other forms of entertainment don’t have. Watching a character crumble over a lost love or discover a betrayal is much more visceral when that character is only a few feet away. I am intrigued by the idea that an audience’s being physically in the room as a play’s action unfolds (and choosing not to interfere) makes the audience complicit in a way that can’t be recreated with film or TV. For me, nothing is as powerful or as moving.

Tell us about The Photo Album?: The Photo Album is an interactive, technology-driven show that requires audience members to scan photographs with an app they download onto their smartphones in order to get clues that will send them scavenger-hunting through the theater to find actors and cue them into telling their stories through monologues, scenes, and interactive games that draw audience members into the action. 

What inspired you to write The Photo Album?: The Photo Album is a unique opportunity for us to combine two things we think are at the cutting edge of new theater – personal technology and immersive theater. The mission of The Story Gym is to do theater that requires the audience to get out of their seats and participate in the action. You sit at work, you sit in front of the TV, you sit at the movies. Why would you want to sit at the theater, too?

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Any theater that is powerful and moving and has something important to say speaks to me. But I am most drawn to political theater, theater that explores the moral ambiguities of life, and theater that involves the audience in some way and forces them to participate and be involved. Theatrically, I’m very inspired by Brecht and, of course, Shakespeare. But I’ve also been finding myself inspired by theater and non-theater pieces that find new and interesting ways to use technology to involve the audience – groups like Improv Everywhere, Gob Squad, and The Builders Association, and even the scavenger-hunt app at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Punchdrunk

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Then She Fell by Third Rail

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Brad Pitt, and it would be called "Yeah, Keep Dreaming".

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
Iced mochas – nothing beats espresso and chocolate for fueling a writing session

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Lately it’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _______?:
Probably institutionalized by now

What’s up next?: A full-length play I recently finished about the Manhattan Project and Robert Oppenheimer, called Irreversible, is having two staged readings at the Ashland New Plays Festival in Oregon this October.

Spotlight On...Iñaki Agustín

Name: Iñaki Agustín

Hometown: San Isidro, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Education: Some here, some there. And a lot of worn out shoes.

Select Credits: Carmen Ghia (Producers), Sir Robin (Spamalot), Marcus Lycus (Forum).

Tell us about TEMPO: TEMPO is the result of the collaboration between the US, Argentina and Spain. This video dance piece reflects on the time we miss while in the present. It speaks of expectations and the anxiety that these conjure using contemporary dance and poetry as its language. It’s now being showcased in various film festivals in Madrid to great reviews.

What is it like being a part of TEMPO?:
It has been the most collaborative experience I’ve been a part of. It’s so fueling to be able to establish a dialogue with other artists and get your work infused by their visions of the world. The challenge is to put egos aside to be able to hear strong, inspired conviction and follow it wholeheartedly.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: COMEDY. Smart, specific, truthful COMEDY. And what if we add a simple, catchy tune? Did you say brass band? How about some flashy footwork with a little partner dancing? I’m in HEAVEN. Don’t forget about the “button”. 

Any roles you’re dying to play?: The Emcee in Cabaret. I cannot wait to be bright and dark at the same time. To have the power and the means to draw and audience in and then slap them in the hand for doing so.

What’s your favorite showtune?: “All That Jazz”. Kander and Ebb will always have my vote. I have every version in my phone.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: David Hyde Pierce and Chita Rivera. That's the kind of performer I would love to learn from.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: It would have to be me. I don’t want anyone trying to do my accent. We’ll workshop the title but I’m thinking “Iñaki with an Ñ”.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: My cousin asked me what should my 4 year old niece’s first Broadway show be and I said "Matilda". I think those kids would inspire her and maybe she’ll catch the bug.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?:
I just checked. It’s "Buenos Aires" from the revival of Evita by the amazing Elena Roger. The orchestration for the dance break gives me life and can take me out of any kind of funk.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Faux Retail Therapy. I walk to Target and pick up stuff. I walk around with it for a while and then I put it back. I might settle for a pair of $10 sun glasses or a $5 DVD

What’s up next?: I’m working on an original project directed by Tatiana Pandiani, a fellow Argentine who is being mentored by Anne Bogart. It’s a big collaboration combining all elements of theatre to tell a year in a newlywed couple's life during Argentina’s big depression during 1989.

For more on promising rising performer Iñaki Agustín's, visit TEMPO (Press CC for ENGLISH subtitles)

Spotlight On...Kara Ayn Napolitano

Name: Kara Ayn Napolitano

Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA (I was born in NYC and lived in Queens for a while but moved to beautiful California when I was small. And now I'm right back in Queens. Ha.)

Education: BA from Marymount Manhattan College, Theatre Directing Major, Music Minor

Favorite Credits: Managing Artistic Director of Writopia Lab's Worldwide Plays Festival - an ongoing festivals of plays and musicals by writers age 7 - 18, performed and directed by adult professionals; Favorite of my produced plays: Prohibition Blues (musical, Under St Marks), Life Recital (musical, Roy Arias and Theater for the New City).

Why theater?: It follows me! I tried to leave it after college but it came after me in the form of director (and friend) Isaac Byrne asking me to be his assistant director on a play called Fresh Kills at 59E59. I'm glad he brought me back. I love telling stories, and I love creating really solid theatrical experiences for both production teams and audience members. I need it. When I leave theater, I feel totally empty.

Tell us about Leah in Vegas: Leah in Vegas is, on the surface, a young mother's attempt to reclaim her life after making a controversial mistake. But it's also about facing the mistakes you've made and learning to live with the consequences, even if you don't feel you deserve it. It is also so very much about female relationships, especially mother and daughter, but also best friends and even lovers.

What inspired you to write Leah in Vegas?:
I was intrigued by Vegas. This idea of being down and out or hitting rock bottom in Vegas was enticing me. It's such a glamorous, glitzy place, but has this darker side to it. It's a place where you can make mistakes and get into deep trouble. I was also interested in how someone might struggle to reintegrate into life after making a mistake that changed everything.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I have to admit, I love a traditional play. I love sitting in a theater, staring at a stage as the lights going down and being transported into another world. I definitely appreciate site specific, immersive and experimental pieces, but there's something about those lights going doing and that story being played out in front of me that moves me every time. As far as who inspires me, the young playwrights I work with at Writopia Lab never fail. The younger ones write with such freedom and as wild as their plays might get, they tend to be extremely enjoyable. The teen writers and so freaking smart it blows my mind. I've seen 15 year olds take complete control of their audiences through their words. It makes me excited for the future of the theater.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I'm excited to potentially take a workshop with Lucy Thurber in the fall. I really enjoy her style of writing. It's about real people that I feel like I know and she makes me feel so invested in them.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Cabaret. I saw it years ago, and recently saw it again. I forgot how freaking good it is. Damn.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: A young Kate Winslet in a movie called "Leaving Queens" (It's already a musical but I would still have to use that title.)

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: "Law and Order, SVU". AT LEAST two episodes in a row, right before bed. I love unraveling the mysteries of who dun it!

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago. That song makes life better.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A real hippie. I'm kind of half one right now. I'd be an organic farmer. Yoga/wellness coach. Animal rescue. I'd live in the woods and have a house full of cats:).

What’s up next?:
Writopia's festival is ongoing. I look forward to helping produce more plays by young playwrights this fall! And I'm starting a new play called In Search of Elaina about going home and facing the people and the life you ran away from. Then it's readings, workshops, submissions, repeat:).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: A Synthesized Satircal Look Into the Future

The future of America: a favorite theme to explore in media. What will happen in the near but distant future? Will there be a Zombie Apocalypse or maybe purge of humans in a fight to the death or maybe the media will take control and regulate consumerism. The options are plentiful and a great jumping off point for new works. In the ambitious satire The Travels, the future of the Good Ol U. S. of A. is a colorful world where the face of the country spews lies about the most perfect place on Earth in attempts to maintain order.
Billed as an epic play with music, Aaron Ricciardi's piece, with music by Kelly Hoppenjans and lyrics by Ricciardi, we learn the country we love is no more. Virtually cut off from the rest of the outside world, Mr. Travels and his travel partner Warren appear on a television program that scares the citizens into thinking the same way and deciding what is right and wrong. Ricciardi's play is full-blown social commentary with a compelling concept. As the world slowly evolves, we meet an assortment of characters who reveal truths and lies. The play beings with grand comedy and musical interludes, never afraid for shock value. But as the comedy diminishes and the dramatic beings to take center stage, the intentions become transparent. Riccardi does a stellar job at offering clever parallels but the more pointed the parallels became, the less affective they were. Since it is technically a musical, Hoppenjans and Ricciardi's music was quite fun, capitalizing on the electronic music feel of the world. However the most daring move Ricciardi and director Travis Greisler made was with the ending of the show. After a big climatic change to the world the character's knew, the lights rise on the audience and one of the actors, perhaps out of character, offers a poignant address. And that's the end.  It is always very dangerous ending a musical without a song. Unless it's a moment that is well deserved, like in The Scottsboro Boys, a musical ending is almost essential.
photo courtesy of James Higgin
The colorful cast was a incredibly cohesive ensemble. Led by J. Anthony Crane and Luba Mason as Mr. and Mrs. Travel, both did a superb job with their grand characters. Matthew Patrick Quinn’s over the top expressions as Warren were wonderful, adding extensive layers by the end of the show. Holland Mariah Grossman created a brilliant sketch-like character with Teeny Travel. The peculiarities Grossman developed as Teeny added to the comedy of the world. Jamie Bogyo as the young, strapping, and naïve Adonis Perfect added a nice element of hilarity. His emotional turn toward the end was captivating.
Director Travis Greisler did a phenomenal job using the space with his innovative staging. Using the high-tech set Christopher Heilman created added a spark of curiosity, utilizing the absurdness to his advantage. Aided by the orchestrations, Greisler instantly set up the odd show-like atmosphere, forcing the audience to feel wonderfully uncomfortable. John Emmett O’Brien’s sound design was quite strong, adding to the bizarre feel of Ricciardi’s world. 
The Travels is a bold piece of theater. It's almost certain to be an audience polarizer. Untraditional works are scary but what's even scarier is if this is what America will turn into.

Spotlight On...Gianni Onori

Name: Gianni Onori

Hometown: Bo'ness, Scotland

Education: GAMTA (The Glasgow Academy of Musical Theatre Arts - www.gamta.org.uk)

Favorite Credits: I think the coolest thing for me so far would be having The 8th Fold put on in concert in the West End last year. That was pretty epic.

Why theater?: I'm a big dreamer, I always have been and the ability to create a two hour long reality of its own really excites me. My characters can do whatever I want them to, say whatever I think they should and sort of convey my opinions without the words coming out of my own mouth. I also find it a great way of letting go. If something is upsetting me then I can pour it into my writing and leave it there.

Tell us about The 8th Fold?: The 8th Fold is about four young men who simultaneously lose family members to America's war on terror in Afghanistan and the journey they take to recover from their grief. As morbid as it could be, it's really more so to do with personal growth and moving forward and of course the power of friendship and talking about your worries out loud. That's a huge theme, communication, not just between the boys but within themselves. As they learn to listen past the noise and really hear themselves then it's easier to solve the problems. It's funny, I actually find it really difficult to break down and I somewhat dread people asking what it's about. Considering the theme the show sits on, the events on 9/11, of course the initial assumption is that it'll be a very dark piece of theatre when really it's incredibly uplifting. I've certainly grown with these characters and I think those who've seen the piece do too.

What inspired you to write The 8th Fold?: This is another question I always dread. I honestly have no idea what drew me to the subject matter. It's seems like a lifetime ago but I remember wanting to create something current and relevant. Something that everyone could relate to. Everyone deals with loss in some form and within the show we get four different reactions and responses to that. I also love comic books and superheroes and so within the piece each boy represents a season and an element which relates to their characteristics and their journey. These themes in turn end up kind of being the power that they contribute to the group, their strengths and their weaknesses and also how they react to each other.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
Typically I'm drawn dark, dramatic pieces of theater. I also love a strong female lead in a show, that may be somewhat to do with my Mum who's a huge role model for me. I find inspiration within every day life. Any strong emotions or feelings that I recognise within myself almost always end up turning to music. As far as inspiring artists go, the one score I always come back to is Adam Guettel's The Light In The Piazza. There's something so beautiful and majestic about it yet for me it manages to maintain this incredible subtlety that pulls me in and makes me want to write.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: One day I would LOVE Michael Mayer to direct one of my pieces. I've worked with him as an actor before and it's an experience that's always stuck with me.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Most recently I've been telling all my friends about If/Then. When I was visiting the city earlier this year to hold auditions I was lucky enough to see it. There are so many little moments within it that I couldn't get out of my head for days. (Plus i'm a proud Idina fanboy.)

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I'd love to say somehow as gorgeous as Matt Bomer.... but maybe someone like Bette Midler in man-drag - I can be a bit of a diva when I want to be. I guess it'd be called something like 'The Life Of Gi' - get it?

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
Ummm... at the moment i'm going through a bit of a 'healing crystals' phase. I'd like to say i'm hippie at heart but I probably just like them because they're sparkly. (And "Sailor Moon", I love "Sailor Moon".)

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: It's not a song but the most played track on my iTunes is Rhonda Byrne's 'The Secret' audiobook. I'm totally into all that. On the music side of things I pretty much have Idina Menzel singing "Always Starting Over" from If/Then on repeat.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?:
My Latin teacher always told me i'd make a good lawyer. I always had a solid case ready for not having my homework done.

What’s up next?: There are a few things going on at the moment. I've started work on a musical adaptation of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots which stylistically veers off in a completely different direction from The 8th Fold. I've also begun writing pieces for an incredible true story that was turned into a book followed by a film with Sigourney Weaver called "Prayers For Bobby". It's about the life of Mary Griffiths, now a well known gay rights activist, and her suffering following the suicide of her gay son Bobby. If I were to get her permission I'd love to take it further.

For more information on "The 8th Fold" go to: www.the8thfoldmusical.com

Review: Madame Inconsistency

Audiences seem to love watching untold stories come to life. Tales about people or characters or history they know. Like what happened before the girl from Kansas dropped in or the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Audiences eat it up because they feel a part of the inside story. So taking history and giving it the musical treatment is nothing new. But finding the right story to share, now that’s the trick. In the new musical Madame Infamy, transatlantic history is given the rock treatment in the 18th century.
American history and European history are often never discussed in the same breath. Meaning the timeline of events for both are usually presented individually, or at least when it doesn’t directly involve America. In Madame Infamy, we are presented a grand opportunity to see two crucial moments in history that are never paired together; American slavery and the French Revolution. The duality of the stories are engaging as we follow the lives of two strong female presences, Sally Hemings and Marie Antoinette, tracking their history, how they are seen and will be remembered. In order to present these two tales together, a connection needed to be made. That connection is through infamous wax sculptor, Madade Tussaud. By chance, these two woman happened to be in Paris at the same moment via Tussaud, and though they may not have ever interacted, Madame Infamy book writer JP Vigliotti gives us the what if and his own take on history. While presenting history in dramatic form it’s almost inevitable that liberties will be taken. Not all fact is dramatically exciting or useful in sharing a story, so fudging the truths will happen. But hey, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before (Bloody Bloody anyone?). Vigliotti took bold liberties with the timeline of both stories in order to make them fit dramatically together. While most audiences will forgive this, the history buffs will know that mere years make a big difference. Sure, in reality there is about a seventeen year gap between Marie Antoinette’s rise to power after marrying Louis and Sally Hemings’ journey to stay with Thomas Jefferson, but by presenting them simultaneously, the dramatic through-line is fulfilled. But by the end when Jefferson dies, leaving Hemings as property, Marie Antoinette's head had been long gone. But again, if Madame Tussaud is the link for the two stories, then she needed to be more present to further sculpt these worlds together. Tussaud starts and ends the play as the focal point but often disappears to give Sally and Marie Antoinette the focus. With two very intriguing stories, there is too much material for one musical, often resulting in one-dimensional characters. Beyond the book, the overall musical scape by Cardozie Jones and Sean Willis is beautiful with some really great numbers. But in the world of historical pop rock musicals, there were some moments that felt derivative to pieces like Elton John’s Aida. From a dramaturgical standpoint, taking the history and placing it to modern music, the inconsistencies of musical styles made the overall feel confusing. Had the orchestrations been strictly “pop rock” and not moments of R&B, perhaps some of the songs would not have been completely jarring and out of place. These random musical styles brought all the dramaturgical questions from the book to light. 
photo courtesy of Zach DeZon
As Sally Hemings and Marie Antoinette respectively, Bashirrah Creswell and Brianna Carlson-Goodman were given the difficult task to bring these figures to life, the latter doing a much better job. Creswell’s Sally was quite monotonous and singular. Carlson-Goodman brought a newfound humanity to the French Queen you love to hate. As Madame Tussaud, Rachel Stern was a vocal powerhouse, giving Jones and Willis’ music a wonderful punch. Kevin Massey as Thomas Jefferson was charming, but given very little material to work with. Justin Johnston as James Hemings was unfortunately the musical alternative, and despite his heartfelt “I Dreamed”, it felt very much in the wrong piece. Doubling as Comtesse and Betty Hemings, Q Smith brought modernity and sass. Xalvador Tin-Bradbury was superb as the comic relief Count Mercy. Tin-Bradbury’s wit and expression was a true highlight of the piece, taking command in his role. The ensemble, for the most part was an odd mix of casting. There were many who seemed lost and did live up to the high standards the more seasoned veterans brought. With the orchestrations so grand and complicated they occasionally drowned out some of the weaker singers both in the ensemble and the main cast.
As a director, maintaining the world of the play is essential. With the inconsistencies all over the place, Carlos Armesto had difficulty doing so. Some of Armesto’s stage pictures were captivating, but there is a more to theater than a pretty picture. By giving history a modern twist, uniformity in the worlds was key. However the accents were all over the place. Though they were intended to reflect the actors’ natural speaking voice, the inflections within the worlds were blurred. When only some of the royalty spoke with a heightened tone, it made some of the characters seem bizarre, like poor Jake Levitt as Louis XVI. Overall, Elisabetta Spuria’s choreography was entertaining, until “Revolution Song” when the recycled Les Miserable recycle march in place was used, unless that’s historically accurate. Shane Ballard’s modern blend in his period costumes were stunning.
Madame Infamy is a piece with great potential. It is a piece that has a bright future. It is intellectually stimulating and a truly captivating story. But moving forward, consistency and accuracy will play an integral key in this musical’s success.

Spotlight On...Brandon Baruch

Name: Brandon Baruch

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Education: BA in Theater, Occidental College class of 2007

Favorite Credits: Lighting Designer for Queenie Pie at Chicago Opera Theater; Lighting Designer for BARE: A Rock Musical at The Hayworth Theater; Lighting Designer for Spring Awakening at Theater of the Arts (I received an Ovation Award Nomination for that one.) Also, I'm particularly proud of my work as Playwright for Me Love Me, which ran at Open Fist Theater in Hollywood and The Players' Theatre in Greenwich Village. I've also done some sexy lighting for a number of beautiful dance pieces. Any time I get to light a naked male dancer, that's going to go on the list.

Why theater?: I love storytelling. Theater is the most ancient form of storytelling. I do not practice religion, nor am I a fan of spirituality, but I will concede there is something sacred about Theater. It's a very human activity. 

Tell us about NO HOMO?: NO HOMO is a play I started writing about a year ago. It received its world premiere at Schkapf Menagerie in the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival, and it will receive its East Coast premiere at The Players' Theatre in the New York International Fringe Festival this August. NO HOMO is a comedy about two straight best friends who are totally gay for each other, but not in that way. While both men are confident that their relationship is healthy and platonic, their needling friends and family are absolutely convinced there's something more going on between them. When the guys are forced to take a closer look at their friendship, it leads to a drunken evening from which their friendship might not recover.

What inspired you to write NO HOMO?: I have a soft spot for straight guys. I've hooked up with a fair number of them (I don't recommend it, but obviously I recommend it.) A couple of years ago, I became really good friends with a (hot) straight guy who I actually didn't want to sleep with, and it turned out to be one of the healthiest relationships of my life. None of my friends nor family, however, believed me that I didn't want to sleep with him, and they were all convinced we were either already doing things, or that I harbored secret emotions for him that would ultimately lead to heartbreak. I thought it was so interesting that no one could see our friendship for what it was, so I started musing on the nature of platonic relationships between men (colloquially referred to as "bromance," but I think the term is reductive.) I also had an itch for the last few years to write a non-gay gay play. As a gay man born and raised in Los Angeles, I have never identified with coming out stories, nor do I have any particular interest in stories about gay rights and equality. I understand the suffering and indignities older (and even current) generations of gay men have faced, but I feel like most LGBT storytelling concentrates on struggles I have personally never struggled, and I wanted to write a play that was true to my own experience. NO HOMO is a gay play to the extent that it takes place in a world where gay people exist (and has a bunch of hot guys in various states of undress), but ultimately the play is a love-story that rises above sexuality.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like so many different styles of theater, but I enjoy anything that approaches its emotional core with honesty. I don't like overly-manipulative or calculated drama. As a designer, I'm also heavily attracted to spectacle, but I think theater spectacle is best used to disarm the audience and render them vulnerable to the truths of the piece. I am inspired by other artists with distinctive voices. I have respect for people who know exactly what they're trying to say, even if I don't identify with the way they're trying to say it.

If you could work with anyone you've yet to work with, who would it be?: There are a number of actors in Los Angeles who I would die to have workshop a play with me. No big names, just incredible talents. 

What show have you recommended to your friends: A group of people from The Flea Theater recently brought their production of Women out to Hollywood, and I told everyone ever about it.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: The actor must be discovered, and the movie will be called "[Sigh] Everything's an Effort". Sundance, here we come.

What's your biggest guilty pleasure?: I spend a LOT of money on citrus. When blood oranges come into season, I struggle to pay my rent.

What's the most played song on your iTunes?:
Die Antwoord's "I Fink U Freeky"

If you weren't working in theater, you would be______: designing architectural lighting.

What's next?: I'm trying to ride the momentum of NO HOMO.  When we return to LA from NYC, we hope to sit down for a six week run. I'm already back to lighting design - I designed Sally Struthers in Always... Patsy Cline, which just opened in North Hollywood. I also have a number of other design gigs lined up, including a world-premiere musical at Sacred Fools Theater and a world-premiere play at Bootleg Theater. I'm also designing a Broadway-style review at the high school that inspired "Glee." I will write my next play as soon as the story strikes me in the face. I don't like to force such things.

For more on NO HOMO, visit www.nohomoplay.com, www.hff14.org/1568, www.twitter.com/nohomoplay, www.instagram.com/nohomo_play, www.facebook.com/bromantictragedy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spotlight On...Marissa Miller

Name: Marissa Miller

Hometown: I grew up in Haverhill, MA-a town north of Boston.

Education: BFA in Musical Theatre from The Boston Conservatory and Masters in 'survival skills' from growing up on a farm as the oldest of five kids.

Select Credits: Wicked national tour (Glinda u/s), Pirates! (The Huntington Theatre)

Why theater?:
It's where I have always felt at home. Something inside me has just always known it's what I'm meant to do.

Who do you play in Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade?: I play Mary Jo Sanders, A PA millworker who hails from West Virginia.

Tell us about Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade: The story follows the legendary Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and her crusade to stop child labor. The show's message of fighting for what you believe in is a theme that is still so relevant in our world today. How do humans respond to struggle? Will you fight or will you despair? Our show explores that.

What is it like being a part of Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade?: Fulfilling!! I am so excited to get up everyday and work in a room full of amazing, dedicated artists. I am learning so much.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am inspired by so many different kinds of theatre but what they all have in common is honesty. I am inspired by street performers and by big Broadway musicals, children's theatre and comedy shows. Anything that makes me question myself, or an idea, or a popular way of thinking. Innovative theatre that incorporates other art forms is also very interesting to me. Collaboration is the ultimate inspiration. Nothing brings me more joy than discovering what other artists bring out of me.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Of Course! Let me pull up the list...I have it categorized in the notes section of my IPhone. Seriously. Ha! But for here, any of the Rogers and Hammerstein women, particularly Carrie in Carousel. Eliza, Magnolia in Show Boat, I would love to revisit Glinda, the list goes on. But what I wish for most is to create new characters!

What’s your favorite show tune?:
Again the list is far too long! But my current obsession is the entire score of Jason Robert Brown's Bridges of Madison County. If you see me crying on the subway with my headphones in, you'll know why.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I couldn't possibly form a list, there are so many amazing people in this business that I would be overjoyed to work with, especially artists who have been in the business for a long time. I would freak if I could have a coaching and coffee with Seth Rudetsky though, so I could pick his genius brain...

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Ask me again in 60 years! Hopefully I'll have a super cool answer.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. And Mother Jones of course!

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Currently it's “3 Things” from Jason Mraz's new album 'YES'. I love his lyrics.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Cheese plates, Trader Joes cookie butter, & "Frozen". But I'm not guilty about it :)

What’s up next?:
Auditioning! I can't wait for my next adventure.

For more, visit  http://www.nymf.org/tickets/2014-events/motherjonesandthechildrenscrusade/

Spotlight On...Kathryn Kates

Name: Kathryn Kates

Hometown: Great Neck, New York

Education: attended Moore College Of Art; and NYU

Select Credits: Food And Fadwa at NY Theatre Workshop; a site specific play by the genius Daniel Reitz called Fall Forward, which was done at a Church on Wall Street; and Waxing WEST by Saviana Stanescu, a brilliant political play that we did at La Mama and then toured both Romania and Sweden. Since relocating to NYC, I have performed in over 30 plays and 3 musicals.

Why theater?: You are in the moment, you get to live in the moment every night, you get to experience it all over and over….and it’s always a new challenge, a new opportunity to find yourself in the role. It thrills me.

Who do you play in Gertrude- The Cry?:  I play Isola, the mother of Claudius, step mother of Gertrude, grandmother of Hamlet; she is a lusty devil of a woman

Tell us about Gertrude- The Cry: Ah, this play. Such brilliant words, such dramatic images, such a bunch of miscreants…delightful in their selfishness and single mindedness; the challenge is to find what you can love about these characters and I think we all do. So, while it is heavy material and very confrontational, I think these are people the audience can relate to.

What is it like being a part of Gertrude- The Cry?:
Being in this play is like being part of a tsunami; big and bold and ever forward rushing, unrelenting, eating anything in the way.  It’s a giant ride.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: THIS kind of theatre speaks to me; theatre that is smart and painful and asks the audience to have an experience rather than simply be entertained. And it is playwrights who inspire me. For me, it’s all about the words.  I can read a play and rarely visualize it well as I read but I always hear the words and know when they sing to me

Any roles you’re dying to play?: The next one.  I concentrate on original works, rarely see a play and wish that I had gotten the role.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Anything Sondheim or Kurt Weill.  I am not a big musical theatre person, although I have recently done 3 musicals and LOVE  doing them.   I have a small vocal range but good pitch and can deliver a song.  I auditioned for Madame Morrible and that would have been a fun job…oh, well.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Woody Allen, and that is the beginning of a very long list

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would play Me and it would be called "Onward She Goes Though The Hakken Kraks Howl", and anyone who knows the Dr. Seuss book will understand.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Casa Valentina was the last show I recommended; gorgeous.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?:
Paul Simon's "Me and Julio"; just makes me so happy

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: It used to be "Project Runway"….now "Louis CK"….and the new FX show "Married: by Andrew Gurland; funny, real,  painful

What’s up next?: A quick trip to Boulder to see my sister; 2 days on an Indie  film; 2 theatre auditions

For more on Kathryn, visit www.kathrynkates.com

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Perfect Musical Propaganda

Who doesn’t love a little musical comedy? Especially when it’s campy and pokes fun at the style itself. Oh, and when the jokes are actually funny. In the new musical Propaganda! The Musical, Rookie, the new heir to a national cover up bureau, is given the difficult task of covering up a potentially ginormous Presidential scandal.
Written by Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster, Propaganda! The Musical is a laugh out loud comedy that pokes fun in all the right places. When Grandpa, the number one at a bureau that handles all kinds of scandal cover ups, dies, instead of leaving the business to his number 2, the sexy and she knows it Agent X, Grandpa leaves the hard task to his adorable, bright eyed grandson Rookie. When Rookie is tasked with one of the biggest scandals ever, he needs to figure out a way to cover it up, and fast. And what better up to cover up a scandal than with musical theater! Though it probably was called Scandal! the Musical at some point, Ferrera and Webster have created a vibrant and cartoonish world where campy is served every second. And it works. It works real well. Ferrera and Webster are clear what this world wants to be and how large these characters can go. Ferrera and Webster, who share book, lyrics, and music credits, have infused a poppy score that is catchy with instant toe tappers. If the key to a successful musical is being able to remember the music when the curtain drops, then Ferrera and Webster have succeed this with nearly every song. If a critique could be had, the Act I finale wanted to be even grander and more upbeat. For a musical of this magnitude, the book is quite strong. It’s witty and invigorating, filled with hilarity. They skillful incorporate a plethora of recurring jokes and subtle theater inside jokes. Though they were aided by an outstanding ensemble, their characters were quite well rounded and fun.
The entire ensemble is strong and marvelous to watch. In the leading role as Rookie, Dale Sampson is brilliant. Sampson is insanely, and unfairly, talented as the sweet and endearing Rookie. His range, from heart breaker to leader to comedic genius, is quite astounding. Sampson has a voice to be jealous of and comedic timing to strive for. A star was born with that performance. Kenita R. Miller is hilarious as the evil Agent X, the fierce ass queen. Miller, like Sampson, is a strong physical comedian, bringing well-executed divatude. She holds her own, sharing the spotlight with the help of her Fierce Ass Girls (there’s a brilliant acronym here!) played sexily by the hot ensemble of Benjiman Dallas Redding, Nick Mason, and Shaun Repetto, all of whom get to show off their legs. Beth Cheryl Tarnow as the cleverly named Tary owns the stage with her moments of unrequited love to the not-so-ambiguously not straight Rookie. Again, Tarnow is a stellar comedian. Rounding out the equally great cast are Kenny Morris as Grandpa and Harry, Jillian Wallach as Board Member 1, Marc Cornes as Ted, and the super trooper MaryJoanna Grisso who is the star of one of the more hilarious recurring bits.
Leading the team is director Nathan Brewer. Brewer’s direction is phenomenal, capturing the camp to a t. Brewer effortless discovered the comedy which made the piece shine. Knowing when to pander and when to allow for a natural laugh won the audience over. The choreography by Jason Sparks is spunky and high energy, bringing the musical theater style in full force. His choreography was clever and really meshed well with the music. The overall design of the musical was topnotch. Sky Switser’s color splash design was vibrant, truly capturing the spirit of the show. Scenic designer Ryan Howell utilized the space, keeping everything simple and mobile, aiding to Sparks choreography.   Propaganda! The Musical is an example of a cohesive collaboration.
Hitting a jackpot with a new work on the first try is very rare. But when you do, it’s almost like watching musical theater history in the making. Fortunately, if you catch Propaganda! The Musical at NYMF, chances are you’ve seen a future smash. Creators Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster have a very bright future. Though Ferrera and Webster have an incredibly tough task in their future collaborations: figuring out a way to top perfection.

Spotlight On...Nicolas Minella

Name: Nicolas Minella

Hometown: New York, NY (I am of that rare breed: a native New Yorker.)

Education: York College, CUNY (B.A.); Columbia University (Creative Writing)

Favorite Credits:  BURBAGE: The Man Who Made Shakespeare Famous. Writing (and rewriting) this my first play, working with my actor, Neil McGarry, and several directors, as well as seeing it performed in Boston and on Cape Cod, with varying audience reaction, has given me a crammed practical course on play writing. If I write anything good from here, it is because of what I’ve learned with this play.

Why theater?: Speaking as a playwright for me it is an opportunity to speak directly to an audience without the distractions of special effects or cinematic tricks. Some movie reviewers will pan storylines and performances of films they’ve seen, but still recommend a movie because of its special effects, playwrights have no such luck; their dialog, plot, and characters must carry the story, which for me is a challenge I cannot refuse. Another advantage of theater over movies and television is that there are fewer political consequences and less of a possibility of a cultural backlash with a play based on what may be considered a controversial premise, so the playwright is freer to explore topics that generally would not be explored, or at least toned down, in movies and on Television. Not that some playwrights haven’t raised a few eyebrows, like Edward Albee with his play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Can you see that play coming a movie theater or television set near you anytime soon?

Tell us about BURBAGE: The Man Who Made Shakespeare Famous:
Briefly put, it proves that dead men do tell tales! Richard Burbage, the world’s first Hamlet, speaks again about Shakespeare, his world and theatrical life, backstage politics, backbiting, sex, and the joys and tragedies of being an actor in any age. I attempted to do research on the life of Richard Burbage only to realize that, like his good friend William Shakespeare, only a few stories about the man have been passed down from the 16th Century, and no intimate details. What you see on stage – with the exception of one oft-told tale – is a product of my imagination, but it is based on what I do know about Shakespearean times, English history, and the sometimes lonesome, often wearisome life of an actor.

What inspired you to write BURBAGE: The Man Who Made Shakespeare Famous?: A day that start’s out as routine as any other day can change your life. I was working at Columbia University when I met Neil McGarry, a splendid fellow and fine actor. We became friends and soon realized that we both had a love for Shakespearean theater, with Neil having the advantage of having acted in many of the Bard’s plays. As an aspiring writer (who up to then had only written a handful of short stories), I one day boldly announced that I would write him a play.  And so I did, after, if I remember correctly, eleven rewrites.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: All kinds of theater speak to me. This past year alone I’ve seen productions of Twelfth Night; The Mystery of Irma Vep, A Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlam; William Inge’s A Loss of Roses; and revivals of two old musicals: America’s Sweetheart and For Goodness Sake. As you can see, I have eclectic tastes. Inspiration comes easy to me. I can see two people arguing on a bus and immediately begin to write a story of their lives and their argument. Technique

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
Oddly enough, I would prefer to work with someone who, like me, is just finding his balance in the theater. We could learn from each others mistakes and celebrate each others successes.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: BURBAGE, The Man Who Made Shakespeare Famous, of course. And they better come!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Although there is no physical resemblance, I would like to be portrayed by George Clooney. However, Chazz Palminteri would probably be cast. It would be called: Life does have a Second Act.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Pampering my own ego.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: If you haven’t guessed it yet, here I must reveal myself to be an old stick-in-the-mud. My most played song is “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael and lyrics by Mitchell Parish. That old tune has somehow has survived innumerable interpretations from the Swing era, jazz artists, and even, yes, even Ringo Starr. Its melody sounds natural and unforced, its lyrics are simple, if somewhat sentimental (as life itself should be), and, like me, it has survived everything the world has thrown at it.

If you weren’t working in the theater, you would be ________?:  I would be plying my old trade as a contract manager, but probably I’d be unemployed.

What’s up next?: I hope to have a new play produced. It’s entitled A Virgin Shall Conceive, which is a comedy/drama retelling of the Nativity story (but not your grandmother’s version), and to find a publisher for my novel "The Blessed Fall", about an ex-priest, now married for five years, who begins to doubt his decision to leave the church and his love for his wife.

Spotlight On...Christine Toy Johnson

Name: Christine Toy Johnson

Hometown: Katonah, New York

Education: BA/Sarah Lawrence College, Certificate of Screenwriting/NYU, BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop

Select Credits: Actor, writer, filmmaker, advocate for inclusion. 3 times on Broadway (Chu Chem, Grease!, The Music Man), 3 national tours (Cats, Flower Drum Song, Bombay Dreams), 10 Off-Broadway shows (most recently Philip Goes Forth at the Mint), about 100 television & film appearances (most recently Richard Thomas’ wife on "The Americans"). Written works included in the Library of Congress Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection.  Executive producer/co-director (with husband Bruce Johnson) of the award-winning documentary feature, Transcending – The Wat Misaka Story. Recipient of the 2013 Rosetta LeNoire Award from AEA for “outstanding artistic contributions to the universality of the human spirit in American theatre”. Details: www.christinetoyjohnson.com

Why theater?: There’s nothing like the shared experience (between audience, actors, musicians, and crew) of telling a story in the theatre, all in this one unique moment in time. No matter how many performances you might give of the same show, each performance exists only then, shared amongst only the people in that same space -- and I really believe that the alchemy of that moment is pure magic! Growing up in the suburbs of NYC, I started going to see Broadway shows at a very early age and was hooked at first sight. All I ever dreamed of was being in a Broadway musical! I feel incredibly lucky to have had that dream come true three times – so far!

Who do you play in Urban Momfare?: Debbie Nakamura-Greenberg, mother of 3 and self-assigned boss of everyone.

Tell us about Urban Momfare: It’s a fun and irreverent musical about 3 Upper East Side women navigating the ups and downs of motherhood and friendship over a period of 17 years. Music and lyrics by Pamela Weiler Grayson, book by Pam and Alice Jankell (who is also the director). We’re playing Theatre 80 on St. Marks Place in the New York Fringe Festival in August. (Check out www.fringenyc.org for dates/ticket info etc.)

What is it like being a part of Urban Momfare?: I’m so proud of the writers Pam Weiler Grayson and Alice Jankell (who is also the director). Pam and I survived the BMI Musical Theatre Writing workshop together and Alice and I have worked together with the Barrow Group Theatre Company’s FAB Women. Their joy in creating and seeing this piece come to fruition is contagious – and is a great affirmation of one of the best reasons we all do this! It’s also pretty awesome to be in the company of so many powerful women (cast, crew, creative team) every day, telling a story that we don’t hear very often in the theatre and a story with so much heart.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love stories that are about something, are full of heart, and illuminate the human spirit. It doesn’t have to be big and shiny, but it does have to be meaningful, even if the meaning is to lift us up by being truly entertaining. I’m deeply moved by man-made art that lasts over time. I write about this all the time. My musical Barcelona was inspired by spending one day in the city of Barcelona and being embraced by the genius of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. My travels around the world (for both work and pleasure) have taken me to astounding places like Ankor Wat, Ephesus, The Great Wall, Rome, Paris, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Athens…and I’m so grateful to the vision of artists who dedicated themselves to creating beauty that has lasted for all these centuries in all of these places.

Any roles you’re dying to play?:
I’ve had the great fortune to play a lot of my dream roles (“Amalia” in She Loves Me, “Maria” in West Side Story, “Cunegonde” in Candide, etc.) when I was younger, and “Dolly Levi” in Hello, Dolly! last year! I’d love to get to play “Margaret Johnson” in The Light In The Piazza, and “Desiree” in A Little Night Music, and I’m still waiting for someone to write an amazing, 3-dimensional, textured, flawed and interesting Asian American woman over the age of 40 that didn’t come over from China last year, isn’t named Mei Li, and sings in her head voice. (And I don’t write roles for myself to play, so I don’t think it should be me!)

What’s your favorite showtune?: “The Sound of Music” (I’m so old school – but I mean, come on: “My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees! My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from the lake to the trees”! Aren’t you just happier now?)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I’ve worked with some pretty amazing people (Steve Sondheim and John Weidman are at the top the list, along with Susan Stroman, Casey Nicholaw and others) but though I consider Lynn Ahrens to be somewhat of a mentor, we’ve never worked together on a new project together. And I would love that. So I will say Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty! (Part 2: Since you didn’t say they had to still be with us, I would also say Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.)

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Mary Tyler Moore (from the 1970 and 80s) as the inner me and Lucy Liu as the me I wish I was as thin as, in “Pathologically Optimistic”.  Story: A young Asian American actress, in spite of all the odds, very few role models (remember it begins in the 70s) and people telling her things like she could maybe “play Guinevere in Camelot in theatre for the blind” forges ahead to make a career in show business and remains cheerful about it.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Rocky (Hurry!), Beautiful, Here Lies Love, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, Act One, Violet.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Okay, at the risk of sounding totally narcissistic, I got Baayork Lee (not only the original “Connie Wong” in A Chorus Line, but also an original “Turkey Lurkey” girl in Promises, Promises) to make her first stage appearance in 37 years (!!) with me in November, where we recreated part of “Turkey Lurkey” together -- and I listen to my recording of this when I’m on the elliptical machine and need a real boost. Dancing and singing that number with her (one of my personal heroes and earliest role models) was out of this world!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Going out to eat with my friends at places like Jebon in the east village (happy hour spicy tuna rolls from 4-7!), Bonchon in midtown (two words: fried chicken), or Joe’s Ginger in Chinatown (soup dumplings!). Any excuse to do this will suffice.

What’s up next?: I’m shooting a part in a movie called “Jack of the Red Hearts”, preparing for a workshop of Barcelona (I wrote the book and lyrics with composer/lyricist Jason Ma) in September and an upcoming developmental reading of a new musical called Chandra & Phoolan (writing book and lyrics with composer/lyricist Kamala Sankaram), as well as continuing to write a play with music called How To Be A Domestic Goddess In 7 Easy Lessons Or Less with Kevin Duda.

For more on Urban Momfare, visit http://www.urbanmomfare.com/ For more on Christine, visit http://www.christinetoyjohnson.com/

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spotlight On...Glen North

Name: Glen North

Hometown: Fairfax, VA

Education: James Madison University

Select Credits: Kyle McLaughlin in Showgirls the Musical Off-Broadway, Link in Hairspray and Laurie in Little Women the Musical

Why theater?: Because I couldn't get into Space Camp

Who do you play in Coming?: Josh Crenshaw aka Jesus 2.0

Tell us about Coming: If Jesus Christ Superstar and Rocky Horror Picture Show had crazy hot sex while listening to Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert, their love child would be Coming

What is it like being a part of Coming?: The creative team is so supportive and creative. Rehearsals are such a safe environment. I'm free to make bold choices and try different things. As an actor I love feeling like a collaborator as opposed to a puppet.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
Smart theatre that isn't playing to an audience, it knows what it is, what it's trying to say and isn't afraid to say it. That's one of the things I love about Coming, nothing is sugar coated in this show. There are some very raw moments that I'm sure will offend some people. If they don't, we're not doing our job right. I hope we get people thinking.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: My dream since I was in high school has been to play Fiyero in Wicked. That was one of the first shows I was ever obsessed with.

What’s your favorite show tune?: "On My Own"

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Diane Paulus, she's such an incredible director. I've loved everything she's worked on recently.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Aaron Tveit, it would be a musical, obviously

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (before it won the Tony!)

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: The opening of the soundtrack for Angels in America

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: The card game Magic: The Gathering

What’s up next?:
Unemployment, thanks for reminding me.

Spotlight On...Joan Shepard

Name: Joan Shepard

Hometown: NYC

Professional Children's School, Hunter College, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

Favorite Credits: Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion In Winter, Frankie Addams in Member of the Wedding, Princess Puffer in Drood, the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet.

Why theater?: When I sat backstage at the 51st St Theatre, waiting to go on as an extra in Olivier's Romeo & Juliet. became entranced with the magic surrounding me. I was 7.  Now I am 81 & I am still entranced.

Tell us about Confessions of Old Lady #2?:  Is my answer to having work at my age. I still get the odd tv job, but Iove sharing my stories & getting laughs. The show consists of  my life in the biz, illustrated with (hopefully) witty songs.

What inspired you to write Confessions of Old Lady #2?: My colleagues at the 12th Night Club asked me to tell my story as an evening's entertainment,so I went all the way with it.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: All kinds of theatre speaks to me. I go see everything I can.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
My two major inspirations have been Judy Garland and Geraldine Page.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I have been recommending A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder to one and all.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:
I'd pick Liza Minnelli to play me.  And I would stay with the current title.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: My biggest guilty pleasure is watching whatever comes up on AMC.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Don't have an iTunes.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Dead.

What’s up next?: I have no idea.  And that's the fun of it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Brass City Blues

Write what you know is something all writers take to heart. Sometimes they take it a little too seriously. In Eddie and the Palaceades, writer and lyricist Roy O’Neil pays homage to the Palace Theater in “Brass City” as the fictional hometown band Eddie and the Palaceades try to save the theater from turning into another corporate America graveyard.
Eddie and the Palaceades follows titular Eddie as he vows to save the venue that got him his big break and jumpstart of memories. Corrupt mayor Biggie Williams is hoping to demolish the Palace Theater and turn into shopping malls and the like. And along the way there is an assortment of characters that fill in for potential loopholes within the main story. With a title that boasts the band’s name, you would think that the story was all about them. But it’s not. Sure we meet Eddie and his wife Gracie and his best friend Vinny, but with so many subplots including daughter Mary’s conflict about her career and disrespecting her town, Biggie’s loneliness, and Mary and Ryan’s romance, among others, the character arcs never truly get completed. When answering the question “what is the musical about” generates multiple answers, you know the book needs some work. In the program note by O’Neill, he states that the work is still in development and scenes have been pulled out, you have to wonder how long it originally was and what it would be like had the subplots been eliminated. Despite the “incompleteness”, the book truly dragged the musical down. Stylistically, the musical had so many varieties it didn’t know what it wanted to be. From campy musical theater to straight-laced characters, the world was muddy. With big characters like Biggie, pun intended, and grand choreography musical comedy is in full throttle, but against other moments of realness, the intent doesn’t quite mesh. Additionally, with a song called “Bangarang” as the big number for the band, you can’t help but feel it’s a reference to “Hook”, or even Skrillex, which is clearly much after the bands’ time.
Art should be about the artists’ passion for their project, but this musical meant more to the creator. The majority of the audience, current and future, will not know what or where “Brass City” is. It’s not meant to be a “Anytown, USA”. O’Neil pays homage to his hometown, Waterbury, Connecticut. The location is such an essential character in the musical it needed clarity. This writer to audience disconnect is a huge hindrance to connecting to the importance of this location.
As title character Eddie, Bill E. Dietrich did an exceptional job with the material, rocking hard to Stephen Feigenbaum’s score. Dietrich has a wonderful voice for the score but was largely let down by the rest of the ensemble. Kayleen Seidl as daughter Mary has a pure voice, playing a part that wanted so much to be fleshed out. Deep within the ensemble were excellent performances by Annie Edgerton and Luke Hoback, owning their larger than life bit characters.
Like the book, Jamibeth Margolis’ direction was all over the map, perhaps due to the blurred intent. The set by Duane Pagano looked as if it came straight from storage at a community theater. Sure, the restraints of the festival setting can be a struggle for a designer, but the design didn’t match the style of the show.
Passion in a project is the backbone to art. But translating that passion for the audience is the key for a successful work. Eddie and the Palaceades has much work to be done before its next reincarnation.