Friday, May 26, 2017

Spotlight On...Jude Treder-Wolff

Name: Jude Treder-Wolff

Hometown: Berlin, WI

Education: Master of Social Work from Stonybrook University; Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Therapy and Vocal Performance from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; 2 years of Actor training as well as private coaching with Emma Walton and Stephen Hamilton at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor; Completed improvisation training program at The Pit-NYC, Completed Musical Improv training program at The Magnet Theater; Playwriting with John Augustine at 42nd Street Collective;

Favorite Credits: Playing Dr. Charlotte in the first ever Long Island production of Falsettos at Theatre Three; Performing my solo cabaret show Getting Over Myself...Because Nothing Else Seems To Be Working as a fundraiser for a downtown Houston community arts center that raised $30,000 in one night,, and prior to that event the show had a great run of fun performances at a club called Roses' Turn in the village; Writing and performing in Tapestry Of Hope a play with original songs inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt that toured Long Island and New York to raise money and consciousness about HIV/AIDS in 1994-1995;

Why theater?: Theater poses the possibility that we can look at anything in life - from the depths of feeling hidden in the most subtle, mundane moments of our lives to the wild, chaotic rides that change everything without notice - and try to understand it together. There is a kind of magic about becoming a character and telling a story that brings a group of people into the same emotional space. The experience of getting a big laugh that rolls through the room, or feeling the tension build in the audience as a story moves in unexpected ways is almost indescribably rewarding. And theater is the best way to learn about people we might not otherwise know about, people we might never meet in real life. I love being part of that.

Tell us about (Mostly) True Things?: (Mostly) True Things is a game wrapped in a storytelling show, with a side of songs inspired by storytelling. In the show, 4 storytellers tell true stories but 3 of them include subtle little lies woven into the narrative. After all the stories are told, the audience has an opportunity to ask questions of the storytellers, (who are not obligated to answer honestly - improvisation is recommended) then votes for the person they think told it straight. Audience members who vote correctly win a prize - a tote bag that says "my superpower is discernment." There are original songs written for the show that set up each stage of the game, and all but one of them gets the audience to sing. The song "Tell Me A Story" welcomes the storytellers to the stage, the song "That's Your Story And You Say That Its True" has an improvised verse for each story told in the show and sets up the audience interaction portion of the show, and "To Be Continued" Is the song that wraps it all up.

What inspired you to create (Mostly) True Things?: There was no storytelling show local to Long Island.  So in part because I was always pushing myself  to get to open mic shows in the city, or get my name in the bag at The Moth, or pitching stories to established shows, I thought hosting a show would be a way to tell stories onstage on a regular basis much closer to home, and promote the development of a storytelling scene on Long Island. It was tough getting audiences for the first few months because this kind of storytelling was an entirely new form of entertainment for most people, so I created the game which seemed to intrigue people. I wanted the stories to be true so we would be sharing the Moth-style storytelling form, so the lies are always very subtle (e.g. a song playing on a car radio that doesn't fit with the timeline of a story). I also wanted to use my songwriting skills and love of music to set the show apart and it seems to have worked. The songs make the show truly unique. After a few months of doing the show in the waiting room of my office - which we transformed into a performance space for the evening - Newsday wrote a feature article about it and that opened the doors to much bigger audiences and we discovered The Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson, NY, a black box theater that is ideal for storytelling. We do monthly shows in that space since 2014 and have branched out to 2 other venues on Long Island, The Pit in NYC and a teen version of the show at The Little Nook Cafe in Sayville, NY.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love everything Sondheim, maybe because I am a creative arts therapist and spent so many years helping people deal with difficult things and try to shape their lives, and Sondheim takes on those big psychological themes. I find theater that looks at complex realities in a really artistic way like Fun Home to be transformational and that inspires me. Hamilton is pure genius and of course speaks to everyone, because it upends conventions, entertains and enlightens. I am very inspired by artists who break boundaries and do independent projects, because it is so very difficult to keep going down an untried path. As a storyteller I continually find inspiration in Spalding Gray. I have read everything he wrote, including his journals, and have seen as much of his filmed work that I can find because he originated a narrative form, was driven to be authentic, and made magic out of the realities of day to day life. He wrote "I walk around the stage on all flaws." The recovering perfectionist in me needs to remember that the best stories and songs may dig into painful or dark things about myself that might be uncomfortable to face but can possibly translate into something that has value for other people. I am also inspired by Kevin Allison, who created RISK! himself, developed it into a platform for so many people to tell their stories to millions of listeners and audience members and is so genuinely supportive of others' work. Also improvisers. All of them.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I recommend the many quality improvisation shows that are available in NYC, TJ & Dave (when they are in town, usually at Town Hall or The Barrow Theater); The Armando Diaz Experience at The Magnet Theater; The Baldwins and Big Black Car at The Pit; Musical Megawatt every Tuesday at The Magnet Theater. Adam Wade from New Hampshire, a monthly show at The Kraine Theater;

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: It would be called "Late Bloomer" with Terms Of Endearment-era Shirley MacLaine playing me.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Binge-watching episodes of Snapped and breaking it up with episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang!

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I am also a trainer and creative arts therapist, so without theater I would be doing even more theater techniques to help clients and students realize their goals.

What’s up next?: I'm working on 2 new projects: 1) writing a solo storytelling show called This Isn't Helping about bad therapy, 2) writing songs inspired by stories, some of my own stories and some told by storytellers in my and other shows for a show with a working title called Words and Music.

Review: Looking Back While Looking Forward

By Michael Block

Kids these days. At my age, I look at the title of this cabaret and I want to slap the star in the face. A retrospective at 25? It surely is premature! But if you take take it as the great hook that it is, 25! A Premature Retrospective is a celebration of a young man with a bright future. Taking center stage of The Metropolitan Room, Blake Zolfo is the star of tomorrow you need to see today.
photo by Michael Block
Blake Zolfo brings a scattering of music that commemorates his life as he takes a look at his first 25 years. Allowing the songs speak for his story, Zolfo provides quick anecdotes about some of his life highlights that lead into the accompanying song. He could easily relish the moment and give more time to the tales. It is his time in the spotlight. Nevertheless, his story is reminiscent of many hopeful millennial artists but his trajectory is unique. Having recently appeared in Kid Victory at the Vineyard Theatre, in a role that gained him a 2017 Chita Rivera Award nomination, Zolfo nippily honors the moment with a reprise of the song that got him the accolade. The rest of the night brings songs about the abundance of jobs, keeping up hope, sagas of love and longing, and what the future may bring. With a cycle of songs from pop to showtunes, Zolfo’s voice easily transcends style. Zolfo has an effortlessly sweet tenderness in his tone. The night may have only been about an hour, but you could easily listen to him for hours on end. Zolfo is grounded in performance. When he is in between songs, sharing his tales or riffing off his stagemate Steve Schalchlin, Zolfo lights up, exhibiting his affable personality. His charming persona brings you in, leaving you eager for the next round. While he may be at the center, this night was brought to life with the aid of director Andy Gale and music director, and owner of half the night’s content, Steve Schalchlin. Gale helped shape a strong narrative for Zolfo, mixing the style and genre content well. Bringing in some song mashups as well, including Andy Grammars "Keep Your Head Up" paired with "Up on the Roof" by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, gave the night a unique flair. Schalchlin’s music has a nostalgic essence that was ripe for Zolfo’s voice that easily brought it into today’s sound. They are a dynamic pair.
To have equal parts peppy charisma and honest humility that pair so well together is rare. Blake Zolfo has it. Fret not if you missed 25! A Premature Retrospective. You still have one more chance.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Meet the Queens! Lady Liberty Cycle 4 Semifinals Round 2!

Lady Liberty Cycle 4 is back with the second round of semifinals! There will be seven queens eager to snatch the crown. Now's the time to meet the queens! Join Brita Filter and Terra Hyman as they host Lady Liberty at the Ace Hotel at 9:00pm directly following the Drag Race season 9 viewing party at 8:00pm!


MEET THE QUEENS


What is your drag name?: Bijoux

What is the origin of your drag name?: Bijou means "jewel" in French. Mine is plural because I'm a man and I have more than one.

How did you get involved in the drag community?: Honestly, It was a very slow, and independent process. After being a fan girl for long enough, I thought, "I love this so much; it's time to try it." I picked up some CVS makeup (NOT AS CHEAP AS YOU THINK), and just started trying to figure it out by myself. I can be a bit shy, so I never really reached out for help from somebody else. I'm really hoping that as I start performing more, I can become more integrated into the community.

Who or what inspires you as a performer?: I'm really inspired by "Classy-Sexy." Go ahead and be totally naked, but then throw on some pearls on to let people know you're worth top notch coin. More than that though, I'm really inspired by people who shine- meaning those people that just have that x-factor. I think that trait genuinely starts with being a nice person, and that's why you will never ever, catch me being a rude queen.

If you had your own show, what would it be?: I would want to do a show with a through-storyline. I would cast other queens and kings in it, with specific characters in mind. LIVE-singing is TBD, but there will absolutely be dancing, and probably stripping.

What is your go-to lip sync song?: I'm actually stuck waiting for Christmas to come around because there's probably nothing I can lip sync better than Christina Aguilera's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: Instagram: @bijoux.xo

What is your drag name?: Laganja Estr.......I mean, Izzy Uncut.

What is the origin of your drag name?: Izzy's just a cute girl name & I figured in drag I was going to be like...fully unedited, totally candid, & just like UNCUT, yaknow? Okay kidding, I just really like uncircumcised dick...so the question bears repeating upon every introduction.

How did you get involved in the drag community?: When I first moved to NYC in 2015 I was going to a lot of circuit parties & I randomly met Shangela at one. She is the first drag queen to become my good Judy & upon getting to know her, I realized how vast this world of queer art & nightlife really is. I slowly got to know a lot more queens through friends of friends & would be at shows several nights a week. Having no outlet for performance or expression after leaving a 7 year all star cheerleading coaching & choreography career behind in Jersey...I decided randomly at a show, "I can fucking do that." & so I did...not so cute at first, & I'm still learning every day...but alas, I'm fucking doing it.

Who or what inspires you as a performer?: Oh god, too many to name...but shit, let's try...Bob The Drag Queen for his quick wit, Miz Cracker for her literal fucking everything (BITCH THAT HAIR?...Also, please Youtube her Bread, Pills, & I Got Love performances...COMEDY GOLD), Aquaria for being an all around full package powerhouse of originality & still only...I believe 8 or 9 years old, right?, Shangela for being a self branding genius & working her ASS off, Jan Sport for being THAT BITCH TO WATCH, she's literally the future of drag, making me feel like even at my best...I'm a tired ass show girl. There's several more, but uhhh...I'm reaching the character count typing this. (There is no character count.)

If you had your own show, what would it be?: Probably something on HGTV where I walk into nautical themed bathrooms & tell the homeowners they're tacky.

What is your go-to lip sync song?: Lady Gaga – “Donatella”

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: www.facebook.com/izzyuncut | Instagram: @izzyuncut | Twitter: @kyle_eckert




What is your drag name?: Kamilla Kockman

What is the origin of your drag name?: A dream I had of beautiful woman

How did you get involved in the drag community?: I grew up performing, but all I was missing was a wig. So I got one.

Who or what inspires you as a performer?: Beyoncé

If you had your own show, what would it be?: It would be a Musical titled, "Kockman Kronichles."

What is your go-to lip sync song?: “Single Ladies” -Beyoncé

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: facebook.com/kamilla.kockman.5





What is your drag name?: Miss Ogeny

What is the origin of your drag name?: A deep-seeded love for women.

How did you get involved in the drag community?: Court ordered Community Service.

Who or what inspires you as a performer?: Forcible touching on public transit, Sigourney Weaver & Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."

If you had your own show, what would it be?: John & Kate plus 8-ball.

What is your go-to lip sync song?: Honestly though, anything from Judy Garland: Live at Carnegie Hall.

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: @TrentAHayward & @MissOgeny




What is your drag name?: Nadia Fusionn

What is the origin of your drag name?: My drag mothers name is Ivanaha Fusionn so I rightfully went with her last name. As we were searching for my first name she originally wanted me to go by Natalia.. it didn't feel right to me. We went back to the drawing board where we came across the name Nadia. It immediately spoke to me, because Nadia is the perfect fusion of naughty and sexy.

How did you get involved in the drag community?: I had my first performance at The Escape in Portland, Oregon. It was the only underage venue for LGBT in portland and where many queens get a start. I was only a couple months away of turning 21 when I then got asked to became a cast member at The Embers Ave. During my time there I learned a lot about myself and the drag community. My drag mother also hosted her traveling show called the Lipstick Divas where she would bring me and a handful of other queens to cities all around the NorthWestern states and we would have the most amazing turn outs!

Who or what inspires you as a performer?: Porn stars!

If you had your own show, what would it be?: A family friendly show about sex

What is your go-to lip sync song?: I typically only do mix tapes but if I had to choose one single song it would be Nobody's Perfect by Jesse J. It's a fun song!

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: Ccross_Nfusionn


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.