Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Country Music's Newest Star

By Michael Block

Picture it. A famed drag queen singing original country music. Sound far-fetched? It shouldn't! After taking the world by storm on season 7 of RuPaul's Drag Race, Trixie Mattel has returned to her folk roots and written an exceptional country album. Trixie Mattel brings her entire six song cycle, and a little bit more, to the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Two Birds.
photo by Michael Block
Celebrating the release of her new album of the same name, Two Birds is a comprehensive concert, perfectly structured, leaving you wanting more. While sitting in her un-air-conditioned apartment in Provincetown, Brian Firkus spent his free time with his guitar writing music. What transpired was a collection of songs about love, heartbreak, and returning home resulting in a toe-tapping, emotionally charged country album. Complete with a quartet of musicians, Trixie Mattel takes her sold out crowd on a journey through a genre far from the drag scene norm. Staying closer to concert than cabaret, Trixie lets the music do the talking. She gives just brief anecdotes prior to the songs, allowing the lyrical narratives to tell the story. The artistry that Firkus displays as a songwriter is masterful. You would assume modern country music is all about beer, girls, and trucks, but “Two Birds” goes beyond. Firkus honors the style, bringing a retrospective of country music in the six songs. There is sadness and sorrow in the numbers, some of which are juxtaposed to an upbeat song, yet it’s the emotional context that shines brightest. Though the music arc doesn’t follow the flow of the album, Trixie saves the best for the end of the night. When it comes to gut-wrenching ballads, “Know You All Over Again” is Nashville chart worthy. A song of moving on from love, the song originally premiered in her other show Ages 3 and Up. The lead single from the album, “Mama Don’t Make Me Put On That Dress Again” marries country with the drag persona. Yes this is a concert of a country album but Trixie Mattel still brings the drag, and two country Barbie looks, to the stage. The thirsty crowd begged for Drag Race shade and she delivered, reading some of her sisters.
If you haven’t listened to the entire album yet, you’re missing out. Two Birds is like listening to the album as Trixie gives you treat by bringing the whole "Two Birds" band with her, comprised of Brandon James Gwinn on percussion and backup vocals, Allison Guinn on autoharp, Jeff Koch on bass, and Joel Waggoner on violin. Drag is becoming more and more mainstream. Trixie Mattel has proven that she can cross into mainstream media with “Two Birds.” In the drag world, Trixie Mattel has catapulted to the top of the heap. Don’t be surprised if someone with an open mind invites her to perform at the CMAs, or any of the abundance of other country music award shows. She deserves it.

Spotlight On...Blake Zolfo

Name: Blake Zolfo

Hometown: Crown Point, IN

Education: Crown Point High School; Boston Conservatory of Music - BFA Musical Theatre (class of '15)

Select Credits: Kid Victory (Off-Broadway, Vineyard Theatre, Chita Rivera Nomination - Outstanding Male Dancer in an Off-Broadway Show);  The Lightning Thief  (International Tour, TheatreWorks USA); Sexyback, or What You Will (American Repertory Theatre New Works Series); Little Murders (Boston Conservatory of Music, WISE Emerging Artist of the Year Award)

Why theater?: I used to say that it was because "theatre allows me to feel the feelings I'm not allowed to in real life". But I think a less dramatic reason would be that I have seen how theatre can be used to create social change, and that kind of power is really alluring to me. I love shows that really make you think - Sweat, Kid Victory, really ANYTHING John Kander has written..

Tell us about 25!: A Premature Retrospective: In the days, weeks, and months leading up to my 25th Birthday, I felt like I had this looming deadline coming up. I felt like "Now my age rounds up to 30!; shouldn't I be something by now?!?!" I felt like many of my contemporaries were already falling in love and getting married. Already booking Broadway Contracts. Already "Something". So I wanted to create a show that captured my journey to discovering what it DOES mean to be 25. What DO I need to have accomplished already. What is OKAY for me NOT to have accomplished? Steve Schalchlin (my musical director) wrote five songs that we're debuting at the concert that were written directly from conversations we've had about growing up. We're also covering songs that deal with age and falling in love and hopeful youthfulness. I'm also reprising the song that I originated in Kid Victory!! It's a fun, heartfelt, hopeful set that I have seen people really respond to. My director, Andy Gale, and Steve really helped to shape this show and I can't say enough how much thanks is necessary to demonstrate how much of the show is truly theirs.

What inspired you to create 25!: A Premature Retrospective?: See above.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theatre that makes me forget I'm watching actors. When that rare combination of material, actors, and music comes together to create something truly bigger than the sum of its parts. That may sound stereotypical, but I've only experienced it a handful of times in my life. That's what makes it so precious when it DOES happen. The Steppenwolf Revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was one of these shows. The quickest three hours I've ever spent in a theatre. People like Tracey Letts or any of the excellent-dancers-turned-excellent-choreographers (Fosse, Blankenbuehler) really inspire me because they prove you can have interests and talents in more than one area of theatre. I feel that too often, we get told as actors that we need to do ONE THING really really well. And any attempt to pursue other things is seen as a distraction or diffusion of your time and talent, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to make yourself a more fully formed, three-dimensional human being and artist.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Younger Brother in Ragtime. I just found out I can sing "Maria" so Tony is absolutely a role I would love to play soon. Eventually, George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Bruce Bechtel in Fun Home. After the experience with Kid Victory, I really want to work on as many new shows as I can be a part of. I love the process of editing a character/character arc/story arc because it helps to inform the character. You get to ask yourself fun questions like, "Is the part we just cut still true for this character? Why or why not?" What a fun puzzle to put together.

What’s your favorite showtune?: It changes almost DAILY but right now I'm strutting down the street to "Poor Thing" from Sweeney Todd. What an excellent cast album. What an excellent performance Angela Lansbury gave.

What’s your favorite song to sing in the shower?: Oh GOD! If I'm being 100% honest, it's "What Baking Can Do" from Waitress. What an excellent "I Want" song. Also, if I start crying in the shower, the showerhead doesn't judge me.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I've always wanted to work with Kyle Dean Massey (he's someone whose work I have always aspired to and admired). I would love to work with more great dancer/actor/singers like Karen Ziemba and Joel Blum and Jeffry Denman. I learned so much from these three over the course of Kid Victory.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  I'd love to have Kyle Dean play me (so people think I'm sexier than I actually am!). And I suppose the title would be something like, "Learning to HufflePuff". (I was officially sorted into HufflePuff by Pottermore.com my sophomore year of college and I remember being SO ANGRY at this sorting. I saw HufflePuffs as dumb, flighty, spacey, air-headed characters from the Harry Potter Books. But recently I've really come around to not only learning to love it, but I actually wore a HufflePuff-themed outfit to the Kid Victory Opening Night Party.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Significant Other was a really strong show this season that really spoke to my experience as a Millennial. Gideon Glick gave an incredibly moving performance and it will stick with me for a long time. OH I WANNA WORK WITH GIDEON GLICK SOON. Like, maybe play his younger brother. Or lover. Those two options are not suggestions for the same show.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: When I need a boost in morale or energy, I listen to Meghan Trainor's newest album, "Thank You". Great beats, straightforward messages. Just a really high energy album.

What’s up next?: Steve Schalchlin and I plan on writing a musical about the life of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a civil right activist from the 1960s who stepped in front of a bullet to save a young black girl's life and was later put in jail for it. The story seems to lend itself quite easily to a musicalization and I think the story is as relevant as it ever will be. This will give me an opportunity to try my hand in following Tracey Letts' footsteps.

For more on 25! A Premature Retrospective, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/event.cfm?cart&id=249428


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Spotlight On...Jan Sport

Name: Jan Sport

Hometown: Old Bridge, New Jersey

Education: BFA Musical Theatre

Select Credits: I Am Kris at The Green Room 42, GLAM Awards Performer, Winner of Lady Liberty Cycle 3, Clubland at The American Repertory Theatre.

Why theater?: My style of drag is heavily influenced in theatre. In theatre school we were always taught that when the characters cannot convey their thoughts through spoken text anymore, they break out into song, and that is exactly what I do in my Kris Jenner act.

Tell us about I Am Kris: I Am Kris is an hour long cabaret about the rise of Kris Jenner and the Kardashians. We take a look at the back story of Kris Jenner's plots to make her daughters famous and how it was really her who got them to where they are now. Through spoken word and parody songs, we get to know Kris and how she handles her insane daughters on a daily basis!

What inspired you to create I Am Kris?: I wanted to create a show for myself. In theatre I was always an ensemble member and I realized that through my own brain and creativity, I could be the star of my own cabaret whenever I wanted to be. Kris kind of fell into my lap and is the reason I started doing drag to begin with. From the get go, people really took to it, and I knew that I needed to do more numbers like the first one I created. By doing this, I realized that I could create a through line with the material and now we have I Am Kris!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I just love GOOD theatre. I want to go to the theatre to have fun, learn something new, laugh and wag my finger when someone is wailing on stage. Lady Gaga is the artists that inspires me most. She is a wonderful hybrid of what I want to do, which is pop and theatre.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Elphaba in Wicked. I've got the voice, Curtis!

What’s your favorite showtune?: Oh too many. I have to give a few highlights. "Not A Day Goes By", "Without Love", and Biggest Blame Fool"

What’s your favorite song to sing in the shower?: "Voulez-Vous" by ABBA

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: In terms of drag, my goal is to be on RuPaul's drag race in a few years, win (duh), and then release an album that will be good enough to play on the radio, and have RuPaul be featured on a track!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I'd have to say Tom Daley because I think he looks like a hotter version of me as a boy and would be a GREAT drag queen. He would just have to be voiced by Adam Lambert. It would be a documentary called "Jan Sport: What's In The Bag?"

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Great Comet of 1812!!! GO!!!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Raw Cookie Dough

What’s up next?: Taking I Am Kris on the road around the country! I have my weekly gig at Pieces Bar every Wednesday with Shuga Cain, and hopefully will have more by the end of the summer!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: If You Knew Her Story

By Michael Block 

This may be a shocking declaration but reality stars have personal stories too! And if you knew their story, you may just fall deeper in love with them. Making her Laurie Beechman debut, Robbie Turner brings a handful of life lessons alongside a playlist of showtunes, some that only the greatest Broadway aficionado would recall, in I’ll Tell You For Free.
photo by Michael Block
Just a girl and her piano, Robbie Turner owns the stage as she shares an array of anecdotes from her life as the kid who glued her feet into high heels and the family that shaped her. Paired with some of Broadway's finest, the RuPaul's Drag Race season 8 queen invited the crowd into her world. Up until her elimination, Robbie Turner was one of the prime narrators of the season. And I’ll Tell You For Free helped to define why. She is an expert storyteller. Even when going on a long-winded tangent, she is able to reel them back. Her ability to recall jokes throughout allowed her comedy skills to shine on. Recurring jokes are in fact comedy gold. Her comfort behind the microphone allowed the night to flow effortlessly. With song selection being a prime player in the evening, if you're looking for standards or top 40, you may have been bummed. But those theater queens had a field day. From Bright Star's "If You Knew My Story" to Jekyll and Hyde's "Bring On the Men," her set list was dynamite. She even got in on the parody game lampooning the preparation of drag in an almost complete reconstruction of "Its a Privilege to Pee" from Urinetown.
There must be something in the water out in Seattle because these Seattle queens' in are ability to bring the theatrics is on point. Expect Robbie Turner to have multiple Beechman return engagements like her sisters Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme.

Spotlight On...Yeujia Low

Name: Yeujia Low

Hometown: The island city of Singapore

Education: BFA in drama from NYU Tisch

Select Credits: Playing a wench from the 18th century in full costume in an immersive theater segment and offering audiences beer and sausages (Prototype Theatre Festival); playing a 12-year-old illegal immigrant boy in a play;

Why theater?: That sizzling warm glow and that larger-than-life feeling you sometimes get when you’re in a rehearsal room or sitting backstage looking at your fellow actors work.

Tell us about Rhapsody Collective: Rhapsody Collective brings together an ensemble of artists (playwrights, directors and actors) to create new plays from the ground up, which culminates in a final presentation in May. Playwrights, directors and actors each meet once a week, to work on their craft, and to explore new material from each other or existing material, in a safe and supportive environment.

Who do you play in Earth Learned Cruelty?: I play Lucy, a hipster-ish Brooklynite in the midst of breaking up with her boyfriend when…. No spoilers! Come see it May 21st!

Tell us about Earth Learned Cruelty: An absurdist play and maybe horror story and maybe political play but with lots of humanity. It’s hard to describe this play without revealing too much plot-wise!

What is it like being a part of Rhapsody Collective?: It has been wonderful getting to meet many other theater artists in the NYC theater community, and being a part of creating a wholly new play is always very exciting. Additionally, a different prompt is given to the playwrights each season, and it is very interesting how all 6 plays deal with that prompt in very different ways.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love pieces that are raw, and have a degree of strangeness or weirdness to them. Too many inspirations to list, but one at the top of my head is the music of my voice teacher at NYU,  Jonathan Hart Makwaia.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I almost feel like naming them puts a silly jinx of some sort and then I’ll never get to play those roles! So I’m gonna avoid this question!

What’s your favorite showtune?: I don’t really have a particular showtune that I love the absolute best, but I recently watched a group of 6 year olds perform “When I Grow Up” from Matilda and what a tear-jerker!

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

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I don’t think my life would ever be interesting enough to be made into a movie, and if it were, I would hope I’d just play myself! I mean, when else would I get a chance to be the lead on the big screen?? It would be called something random like “The Yellow Crawling Apple” or something just because I’m random like that.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin in Sunday in the Park with George, the off-Broadway productions of Here Lies Love, Heathers, Hamilton (I must have slept through 2014/2015)

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening, the recent The Color Purple revival, and this is not theater but Batsheva Dance Company

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Food. I love food!

What’s up next?: performing in a really fun clowning show A Fool’s Paradise at The Brick May 30; music directing a sci-fi feminist new musical in July as part of the SheNYC Summer Theater Festival!

For more on Yeujia, visit yeujialow.com. For more on Rhapsody Collective, visit facebook.com/rhapsodycollective

Review: It's My Party So Put Down The Baseball Bat

By Ed Malin

Something lovely from Québec has landed in New York.  Award-winning Canadian playwright David Paquet’s play Porcupine is now playing in downtown Brooklyn, directed by Leta Tremblay, translated from the original French by Maureen Labonté.  The writer and director state “that there are three major ingredients to the play: surrealism, dark comedy and day to day poetic vulnerability.”
That does a good job of summing up the surprising theater spectacle, which reveals much more than first meets the eye.  There is great honesty, such as the way that one person’s happy birthday party brings out the worst in others.  There are subtle explorations into woman-on-woman violence (admittedly inspired by competition over an unworthy male) and the much healthier cooperation that might take its place.  And there is a surprise birth scene (to the tune of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”) and lots of balloons.
Maybe, just maybe, feelings are not the best way to choose a solid relationship.  Noami (Jessica Kuhne) loves Theodore (Jean Brassard) so very much, she has brought up her great desire to have a baby.  While the two sip cocktails in lawn chairs, Theodore replies that he no longer has feelings for Noami and then walks out.  Meanwhile, in her tinsely residence, Cassandra (Sofi Lambert) is preparing for her birthday party. She throws a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and then voilà she has an exotic chocolate cake with wild frosting that resembles a porcupine.  Strolling down the street, Cassandra meets Theodore and gives him an invite to her party. The next stop for Cassandra is Phil’s Corner Store, where Suzanne (Yeauxlanda Kay) chain-smokes as she minds the register. When Suzanne stands up to help Cassandra with her birthday balloons, we see that Suzanne is pregnant.  Cassandra invites the resentful Suzanne to her party. The Owner of the store (Vincent D’Arbouze) is the lonely, virginal gentleman whose dyslexic mother named him Phillilip.  He adores Cassandra, and is sorry to have missed her, but is overjoyed at the thought of crashing her birthday party.  Suzanne goes for a walk and meets the newly-single, distraught Noami.  As the two chat in lounge chairs, Suzanne dozes off.  Without warning, Noami swings a baseball bat at Suzanne’s stomach.
photo by Audubon Dougherty
Theodore gets his hair dyed black in the back of the enterprising Phil’s shop.  Cassandra feeds Theodore cake and Theodore feeds Cassandra bad pickup lines.   They talk about a duck named Gilbert, who Cassandra once rescued.  The self-centered Theodore realizes he is not compatible with Cassandra, and goes back home to tease the suddenly pregnant Noami.   After learning about Theodore’s day and throwing him out, Noami resolves to go to Cassandra’s birthday party.  There, she coaxes Cassandra into putting on a blindfold (for a special variant of piñata games) and then brings out the baseball bat.  Suzanne, no longer pregnant, arrives to mediate, but by the time the love-sick Phil gets to the party, Cassandra is pregnant.   Phil, the innocent and yet awkward one, sometimes tortures ducks in his spare time, while Cassandra sometimes cuts herself, so perhaps they cannot give each other what is needed   Indeed, 33 is a special number since the 3s spoon each other.  Counting to 33 can either lead the way to premeditated violence or give one a chance to diffuse a bad situation. After some magical events, some very new and unexpected relationships emerge.    
A few master strokes in this play turn the whole thing pleasantly upside down.  The happy day on Angelica Borrero’s sets, with the Francophone pop music soundtrack collapses into questions of abusive relationships.  Allison Dawe’s costumes include multiple different dresses for each of Cassandra’s moods and several hairpieces and even a ski mask for Theodore as he confronts and then retreats from reality. Jesse Geguzis’s fight choreography shocks every time.   Why do people hurt themselves and others?  If abuse left a clear sign (such as pregnancy), would we finally be able to stop our hurtful behavior?  A puppet duck designed by Jean Marie Keevins—a symbol of hope—later appears.   This play certainly does innovative things with the lanterns and balloons which inhabit the set.   Sofi Lambert’s larger-than-life happiness soon eases into a variety of other compelling feelings, while Jessica Kuhne’s initial drive for revenge on her beloved  later morphs into sympathy for those she meets. Yeauxlanda Kay startles the happy world of the play with the things she says, and then helps heal others with the things she does.  The men are revealed to be forever looking for (or recovering from) women.  Jean Brassard’s elegance is a nice complement to Vincent D’Arbouze’s awkwardness. Leta Tremblay’s direction helps put the real in surreal, and offers many suggestions for how to build a better world.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: A Classic Match

By Michael Block 

Some people would pay to watch Bette Midler eat. Well, here's your chance! Hello, Dolly! has made a glorious return to the Great White Way in a delightful production. Directed by Jerry Zaks with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, Hello, Dolly! is a cheery production that brings back nostalgia for classic musical comedy.
Based on Thornton Wilder's The Merchant of Yonkers, Hello, Dolly! follows Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow who makes a living through meddling. As a premiere matchmaker, Dolly is seeking a wife for grumpy Horace Vanderelder but it’s really she who plans to marry him herself. Meanwhile, Horace’s niece, Ermengarde, is being courted by Ambrose Kemper while his clerks Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker take a trip to New York City and find an adventure alongside Irene Molloy, a hat shop owner, and her shop assistant Minnie Fay. With an abundance of old-fashioned charm, Hello, Dolly! gleefully embraces the whimsy of romance. It’s hard to do this show wrong. The story is silly. But we forgive it simply because of the nostalgia attached to it. Rather reinvent the show, Jerry Zaks and his team don’t rely on spectacle to tell the story like some of their neighbors do. They allow the show to sing for itself. Scenic designer Santo Loquasto provides some moving parts to the design, and one off beat court room scenic piece, but the intrigue for most of the crowd are the painted drops. No other show in today’s theatrical landscape could ever get away with a painted drop. But this show can. Playing double duty with costumes. Loquasto provides beautiful period fashion alongside some iconic looks. Nothing quite beats the hat parade as the cavalcade marches on in all its glory.
photo by Julieta Cervantes
Dolly Levi is an iconic role. It’s synonymous with a handful of actresses, most notably Carol Channing and Barbra Streisand. But ladies, watch out. Bette Midler is coming for your glory. There’s only one way to describe her: divine. You can say she put herself into the role but isn’t that what we wanted? Midler knows how to hit the comedic beat without batting an eye. It comes natural. But it’s when she tackles Michael Stewart’s soliloquies that Midler radiates heart. Infusing just a tinge of color, the tenderness in which she delivers the text layers her Dolly. As the man she drives crazy, David Hyde Pierce’s Horace is assertively funny. With a lip quiver that rattles his moustache, Pierce plays into the caricature elements of Horace. With an profusion of subplots to explore, this ensemble of supporting players was more than capable to help carry the show. Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin as Cornelius and Irene were delightful. But the real scene-stealers were Taylor Trensch as Barnaby and Beanie Feldstein as Minnie. Taking on the more comedic sidekick parts, Trensch and Feldstein played into the grand youthfulness of the duo, yet they were some of the honest portrayals on stage. Taylor Trensch is truly the unsung hero of this production. It takes a special performer to make a minor ensemble character come to life and steal the show. Jennifer Simard as Ernestina did what very few can. Simard’s brash and unashamed Ernestina kept the audience on their toes. You never knew what antics she was going to do next the moment the booth curtain opened.
Between the show itself and the superstar taking on the title role, this production was going to find itself getting uproarious applause. I’m sure it’s like it every night but the audience applauded for everything. The overture starts: applause. The curtain rises: applause. Bette Midler steps on stage: applause. David Hyde Pierce steps on stage: applause. The costumes are revealed for “Put on Your Sunday Clothes”: applause. See a trend? But it’s incredibly rare to find a standing ovation occur in the middle of the show. And that happened at the conclusion of the titular song. As they say in sports, “and the crowd went wild.” Like the commercial says, there will be people who saw Hello, Dolly! and people who did not. Hello, Dolly! is a sweet production that stays inbounds. If anything it brought Bette Midler back to musical theater. And that’s a triumph right there.

Review: Fighting the Fascists, On Film

By Ed Malin

Duncan Pflaster’s A Touch of Cinema is part of Spotlight On: Rise of the Phoenix at The Wild Project.  Aliza Shane directs this story of resistance, set in a land far away but only too close.
 At first, it looks like actress Dina Kummerspeck (Diánna Martin) and her painter husband Tomas (Lars Engstrom) are preparing for just another charming dinner party for their in-group of movie stars.  However, when Dina retorts that it’s not just a party, we should believe her.  Dina’s arriving friends lament that it’s been too long, and note her electronic ankle shackle.  Dina is under house arrest; after being persecuted over her perceived seditious film “Canine Teeth”, she has undergone “re-education” and is prevented from appearing in public.  Regina Fontaine (Kristin Vaughan) is many shades of elegant, with the kind of class that has been phased out by the hated new regime of President [unmentionable]. Martin Dure (Russell Jordan) has a flamboyant way of suggesting that they liven up Dina’s shackle with some rhinestones.  Graeme Tupper (Michael Andrew Daly), their co-star, sympathizes with Tomas over the loss of his famous mural, which is about to be painted over by a state-sanctioned artist. Tomas, who had not been told of this, is also sad to hear that Martin has been blacklisted.   Mind you, even in a room full of thespians, Graeme’s pal Sally Haze (Lucy Spain) stands out.  The young ingénue always seems to be trying very hard to please.
photo by Duncan Pflaster Photography and Graphic Design
 The current regime is very hostile to the arts.  We hear the story of the career that  was ruined when the censors asserted that a cello sonata was too similar to the national anthem of another, non-fascist country.  So, even though Dina is banned from performing, she respectfully asks her assembled colleagues and friends for an impromptu read-through of the new screenplay she has written.  Someone in the room immediately urges the group not to do anything that would be misconstrued as treason. Others are too intrigued not to read it, while the rest need to be reminded of ground-breaking films of the resistance, such as Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and the French actress Arletty’s risk-taking performance in “Les Enfants du Paradis” during the Nazi occupation.  Martin has a way of flirting with the affable Graeme—who appreciates Martin’s “masculine vulnerability”—and the two finally share a stage kiss.  In the end, Dina has in fact made another movie. The reading has been filmed and will be taken out of the country by several people in that very room who will be starting a new life as refugees in a land that supposedly welcomes them: the United States of America.   Who is afraid of starting over?  Who among them is a collaborator?  Who has yet to come out to their mother…at that age?
A Touch of Cinema is a stirring reminder of the power of the arts during repressive regimes.  Where the story takes place is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t matter.  Since World War II, many countries have forgotten the lessons of history.  The characters in this play say that America is/will be the place that, just like in the movies, fights evil and offers freedom to all.  Duncan Pflaster gives his characters many witty finishing touches, from the classy (lipstick color “cherries in snow”) to the campy (“Trying to be unobtrusive?  With those shoulders”).  If you like “Casablanca” and the other fascist-busting films of the 40s, you will find this play moving.  If you are not familiar with the 20th Century, work like this and the others referenced herein will give you strength.  Aliza Shane stylishly directs the talented cast through many moments that will be familiar to actors and those who fraternize with them.  I could become accustomed to Tricia Bastian’s flashy costumes.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Spotlight On...Jef Canter

Name: Jef Canter (Jef with one F)

Hometown: Tallahassee, FL

Education: BS Marketing Florida State University; Young Actors Studio

Select Credits: I loved playing Dr. Watson in the East Coast Premier of Watson at Gretna Theatre and playing 21 different roles in Around the World in 80 Days. I’ve also had the privilege to play Clarence the Angel in two different productions of It’s a Wonderful Life and to return to my hometown to perform Bottom the Weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Southern Shakespeare Festival.

Why theater?: Theatre is my love because of the audience. You have the ability to interact with them, to play off their energy, to make them laugh, cry or think. Nothing beats it because each show is a living breathing creation that is special and unique each time you perform it.

Who do you play in Giovanni The Fearless?: I play Jacopo Bombasto, (pronounced Ya-co-po), the patriarch and leader of a family troupe of commedia dell’arte actors.

Tell us about Giovanni The Fearless: Giovanni The Fearless is a wonderful new show with something for everyone. We describe it as a family-friendly commedia dell’arte folk opera. It’s a story about love, a troupe of travelling actors, a deserted castle and a couple of ghosts. This is the first full professional production of this work with book and lyrics by Carolyn Balducci and music composed by Mira J. Spektor. It’s directed by Lissa Moira, whom I’m pleased to be working with for the second time. The music is beautiful and it will be a treat for kids and adults as well. We will be performing at the iconic Theater for the New City in the Village from May 12 – 21.

What is it like being a part of Giovanni The Fearless?: It’s a thrill to be able to originate a new role and bring new works to life. The show has wonderful music and the style of the acting is very playful. It will be the first time I’ve ever gotten to play a giant ghost puppet on stage which should be a lot of fun!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love it all from straight plays to musicals, classics to contemporary. There are so many amazing stories to be told. But I love and live for the comedic roles and making people laugh. I am inspired by great performances and there are so many to see it would be hard to choose just one.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Dave in Full Monty, Freddy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Billis in South Pacific, Thernardier in Les Mis. I also played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in my community theater days and would love to play the role professionally.

What’s your favorite showtune?: That’s a hard one. Maybe “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific or “Big Ass Rock” from The Full Monty.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Wow… writers like Tim Minchen, Alan Menken, Lin Manuel Miranda… directors like Casey Nicholaw, John Doyle, Jack O’Brian… Anyone who wants me for their Broadway show!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself, and what would it be called?: If I couldn’t play myself, I think maybe Jack Black or Zach Galifianakis. It would be called “Jump and You’ll Find the Net” which is one of the philosophies I try to live by.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I’d love to see the original production of Fiddler with Zero Mostel.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I can’t say enough good things about Groundhog Day!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and buffalo wings!

What’s up next?: Earlier in the year, I played Michael Larson in a staged reading of a new musical called Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal. It’s an amazing new piece of work, written by Brandon Sturiale, and I’m excited to be going into the recording studio to record some demo tracks to help take the show to a full-staged production. I’m looking for my next immediate gig… so if you’re looking?

For more on Jef, visit www.jefcanter.com

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spotlight On...Kimberley Bechtold

Name:  Kimberley Bechtold

Hometown:  Menominee, Michigan (the Upper Peninsula for those of you who have heard of it). Yes, I am a Yooper!

Education: I recently graduated with a Master’s of Music in Vocal Performance from the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music. My undergrad degree was also in Vocal Performance, from Georgia State University.

Select Credits:  Most recently I performed the role of Brigitta in Iolanta with the New York Opera Theater. While at Brooklyn College, I performed the roles of Adele in Die Fledermaus, Gilda in Rigoletto (scenes), Mary in G Train the Musical, Tchervyakov’s Wife (and 4 other characters!) in Death of an Underling, and Hillary Hickory in the children’s opera Mambo. Recently, I participated in an Italian immersion opera program called Si Parla, Si Canta in Urbana, Italy. While there, I performed the roles of Sandrina in La finta giardiniera, Beatrice in Beatrice di Tenda, Eternità in La Calisto, and Jouvenot in Adriana Lecouvreur (scenes).

Why theater?: A few years ago, I attempted to get a “real job,” and let’s just say that didn’t last…. There is this longing inside of me that has to be expressed. I grew up taking piano lessons and acting in community theater productions. Then I went home and enjoyed singing along and acting out every song and scene in The Sound of Music. I like to pretend that Julie Andrews taught me how to sing.

Who do you play in Giovanni the Fearless?: I play Columbina, the eldest of two daughters in the Bombasto family. Columbina dreams of love, and she finds it with Giovanni.

Tell us about Giovanni the Fearless: Giovanni the Fearless is a silly, funny, and witty story about a family of traveling performers (actors, singers, musicians, acrobats) referencing the Commedia dell’arte form of theater. This is a show will take you on an adventure to a haunted castle, will absolutely makes you laugh (there is literally a song about pasta), and also will invoke feelings both of romantic love, but also love of family, and of course the love of theater!

What is it like being a part of Giovanni the Fearless?: Every day is an adventure! Seriously… Our director has thought about every detail of this show and each character. We are all reaching deep within ourselves to make this show as exciting as possible. In what other show could I sing, tango, play the trombone, and dance with pasta??!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I have always been drawn first to those with a beautiful mastery of vocal technique.  Beyond that, I am drawn to those who have a mastery of comedy, especially those who use this mastery in a creative way. As far as a mastery of vocal technique, and expressing emotion through this, my teacher, Anna Skibinsky, inspires me the most. She has such an effortless, beautiful tone, and the most gorgeous high pianissimo notes you have ever heard! As far as comedy, my inspiration is absolutely Carol Burnett. Who else can sing alongside opera singers such as Beverly Sills, and then produce elaborate music scenes that make you roll on the floor laughing? She is truly one of a kind.

Any roles you are king to play?: Honestly, Cunegonde in Candide. Also, I have to play Maria in The Sound of Music before I die.

What is your favorite showtune?: I literally can not pick just one… I grew up singing The Sound of Music, so that song holds a special place in my heart. The music in West Side Story is so unbelievable though. Literally every song in that show… I also occasionally geek out to The Last Five Years and Les Miserables. I told you I couldn’t pick just one show tune.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I think I would want to meet and work with Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews. I have difficulty choosing just one…

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: The actress would be Amy Adams, and I feel like it was already made… Have you heard of "Enchanted"? I feel like a movie about me would feature me singing every word (instead of speaking) in an operatic way, and then everyone else would just start at me awkwardly.

If you could go back in time and see any play or music you missed, what would it be?: I wish I could go back and see/hear Julie Andrews sing while she was in good vocal health.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Which friends?

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I think one of my favorite things to do in life is sing all of the parts to “One Day More” from Les Miserables.

What’s up next?: I produced and performed in 10 singing variety shows called Les Chanteuses. We are currently working on the 11th, which should debut this summer in Brooklyn. Details coming…

Review: The Girl from Oz-some

By Michael Block 

Most of us have pride when it comes to where we’re from. It tends to be a great theme for a show. Just ask drag’s pop princess Courtney Act! Courtney Act, one of the most stunning humans in and out of drag, brings her homeland of Australia to America in a celebration of song in The Girl From Oz.
photo by Michael Block
While she’s best known to us stateside as a runner-up on season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Courtney Act is also known for her time as a contestant on Australia Idol. The Girl From Oz was top to bottom a concert and Courtney Act has the pipes for it. Working her Australian artist repertoire, Courtney started off the night with an homage to Olivia Newton John and “The Wizard of Oz” as she roller skated her way through “Xanadu.” From there, Courtney left no big name Australian untouched. Ranging from a Sia medley to rocking AC/DC cover, not only did she educate the crowd on the talents that came from the land down under but quite possibly proved they might just have more talent. Wit three sexy looks that ranged from a riff on Dorothy, a gold frock, and glistening swimsuit accompanied by some ruby red thigh-highs, there wasn’t a moment when she didn’t slay the stage. She may not be known as a comedy queen like her season 6 sister Bianca Del Rio, but Courtney Act is one funny lady. Her audience banter included an array of funny jabs and shady jokes that came easy. What made The Girl From Oz a successful cabaret was the flow of the show and her ability to move from song to song seamlessly. The integration of the videos were a hilarious touch that only added to the humor and theme.
Courtney Act may be blocked by RuPaul but the rest of the fandom loves her and The Girl From Oz proves why. She is an effervescent performer that knows how to command the room. You know you have control when your audience demands an encore by holding gay Aussie icon Kylie Minogue for very last.