Hal Holbrook Channels His Inner Mark Twain in Galveston Performance

Categories: Performance Art

Photo courtesy of Hal Holbrook
Hal Holbrook in his one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight!"

A person can find symmetry in the life of a man born shortly after the 1835 appearance of Halley's Comet, and who predicted that he would "go out with it," too. Such was the case for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who died the day after its 1910 return, and who was better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Noted for writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain was witty, sarcastic, and befriended by presidents and royalty; his obituary in The New York Times labeled him the "greatest humorist and satirist" of his period.

In the early 1950s a young 22-year-old actor named Hal Holbrook developed a show with his first wife Ruby; he would play famous historical people and she would interview him. From this early start was born the one-man play, Mark Twain Tonight!, which was given a national boost in 1956 by television host Ed Sullivan and has been performed more than 2,300 times.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Is Moving to the Unexpected

Sharon Bradford

People don't usually associate ballet with the music of Prince and Stevie Wonder, but Complexions Contemporary Ballet isn't interested in replication. "We are not afraid to entertain," says Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder Desmond Richardson.

Hailing from New York City, Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by Richardson and Dwight Rhoden--two directors who both value multiculturalism as well as breaking artistic barriers. Their focus is to be continuously evolving, a group that changes with the culture and time. Their success in doing this has brought them such honors as the New York Times' Critics Choice Award.

Rhoden, the company's resident choreographer, has worked with The Joffery Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Dance Theater of Harlem.

"Dwight often begins his creative process with the music, which informs what he has to say...the current social climate also affects the work at times," says Richardson, former principal dancer with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, and Ballet Frankfurt. "I assist in the studio by workshopping movement before we teach it to the dancers," says Richardson, who also choreographs on occasion.

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Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet Brings Authentic Italian Design to Houston

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Juliet_Sketch.jpg
Courtesy of Roberta Guidi di Bagno
Sketch of Juliet
For the past year and a half, world-renowned Italian costume and scenic designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno has worked to design the sets and costumes for the first new production for Houston Ballet in 28 years -- Artistic Director Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet.

Guidi di Bagno and Welch met in 1998 while working on his commission of Ønsket for the Royal Danish Ballet. When it came time to look for a designer, that's who Welch reached out to in his search for authenticity in the classic tale of young lovers doomed by a family feud, a story set in Renaissance-era Verona, Italy,

"After speaking with Stanton, I looked at paintings from the Old Italian Masters of the 1400s," Guidi di Bagno says. "I took inspiration from those real representations of the time period and then I washed a surface away in my mind and added my own interpretation."

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Joel Orr and Two Star Symphony Reunite for Macabre Puppet Show

Categories: Performance Art

Photo by Anthony Rathbun

Ten years ago Joel Orr of the Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater teamed up with a young Two Star Symphony to put together a unique musical puppet production based around Camille Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre. The show was a hit, but just one of the many steps both artists have taken in their long, odd and excellent careers. Now they are finally bringing back one of the most legendary and popular creations for a new generation of Houston audiences.

"We ran into Joel a few months back and got to reminiscing on how well the show had done," said Two Star Symphony's Jerry Ochoa. "We were looking for a way to finish off our residency at 14 Pews, and he mentioned that he still had all the old puppets and sound cues in storage. We still hear from people today how much they loved it. I even had a girl who saw it when she was in high school tell me it was what made her pursue a performance career."

Danse Macabre: The Constant Companion is very typical of the work of both Orr and Two Star. It's a black comedy about death and isolation that Orr says holds up surprisingly a decade later It's a beautiful production that incorporates nearly every form of puppetry in existence, combined with the unique classical music that Ochoa and his mates produce.

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Devil Dog Six Merely Places on Script But Wins on Production

Photo credit: Paige Kiliany
(l to r) Sam Flash ,Travis Ammons, Sammi Sicinski, Cheryl Tanner, Jarred Tettey and Bradley Winkler in Devil Dog Six

The set up:

Move over War Horse, there's a new pony in town and this one ain't gonna tug manipulatively on your heart strings in Walt Disney tear-jerky fashion. In fact, this horse is aiming to make you take pause and actually think about real human issues and emotions. Devil Dog Six, the new play by Fengar Gael set in the world of competitive horseracing uses the racetrack to examine themes of ambition, competition, ethics and integrity. And oh, yeah, there's even some bigotry and misogyny thrown in for good measure.

Commissioned by the InterAct Theatre of Philadelphia through the National New Play Network, Devil Dog Six premiered in San Diego and was awarded the Craig Noel Award for Outstanding New Play.

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Nashville Hurricane: Great Guitar Picking & 4 Memorable Characters All Delivered by One Man

Photo courtesy of Chase Padgett
Chase Padgett as Henry in Nashville Hurricane
The set-up:

If you've spent any time following the Fringe Festival circuit in North America, you're probably already aware of the marvel that is the multi-talented Chase Padgett. He acts, he sings, he plays guitar, he writes and he's produced two award-winning solo Fringe shows over the last four years. His first hit in 2011, 6 Guitars, put Padgett onstage with only a guitar and speaker in order to portray six different characters, each a musician of a different genre talking about and playing their style of music.

The wonderfully comedic effect instantly made the show a hit with audiences and critics alike and went on to extended runs, sold out shows and many awards along the way. It's never easy to follow up a blockbuster hit, and Padgett stumbled a bit with his next Fringe offering, a two-hander with his brother that failed to connect. But come 2013 at the Calgary Fringe Festival, Padgett was back swinging when he premiered his one man show, Nashville Hurricane, about a young musical prodigy and the dark side of show business. I had the pleasure of seeing and reviewing that inaugural production and was delighted (along with that city's other theater critics) to nominate the show for our annual theater awards.

Since then, Nashville Hurricane has grown from a 60 to a 75 minute show and has toured extensively throughout North America accumulating a dragnet of awards along the way including Best of the Fringe in Orlando Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton.

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Dudley Saunders Shows What the Dead Leave Behind

Categories: Performance Art

Photos by Dean Carpentier
Musician and multi-talented artist Dudley Saunders saw two of his exes lose their lives close together in the early '90s during the AIDS crisis. As with when anyone dies there comes the question of stuff. Not the big stuff like houses and heirlooms and antiques. Just the regular every day things that people use and then have no more use for being dead.

Saunders got interested in that stuff, and it's the subject of his In These Boxes project. Years after his former lovers were gone, he realized that he no longer knew anybody that remembered when he was with them. The few objects he had as mementos were the only witnesses to the past beside himself.

"I had a number of objects, but two stay top of my mind," said Saunders in an email interview. "One was a simple cheap chain, the kind people hang around their necks to display a cross or St. Christopher's medal. That was from my first lover, an emotionally scarred Vietnam veteran. He was a tough guy, very distant, but his eyes showed rare emotion when he hung that chain around my neck. I felt like a lone witness; I don't know if anyone else knew what was inside him.

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Ringling Bros. Is Built to Amaze But Could Use Some Work

Categories: Performance Art

Photo by Lynda Rouner
I skipped the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year, but did have a chance to check out Fully Charged the year before. In the two years since then, there have been some improvements made in the latest tour, Built to Amaze, but not necessarily enough to justify a ticket to those hoping for a whole new experience.

One thing that was definitely changed for the worse was the music. Circus music is usually made up heavily of tunes that are more or less knockoffs of pop songs, but whereas Fully Charged felt like it pulled from more timeless melodies like Abba's "Mamma Mia," Built to Amaze seemed to try over-hard to tap into modern, drill-team-ready pop songs. They even busted out "Gangnam Style," which at this point is a pop culture crime.

Music aside, it's a brighter show than in previous years, trading mystery for bald performance. These included some really inventive highlights.

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Five Divine Things Bette Midler Must Do While in Houston

Can you get any more fabulous than the inimitable Bette Midler? Eh, probably not.

The Divine Miss M has a career that spans nearly half a century, and it began alongside a young Barry Manilow, performing bawdy comedy shows while he accompanied her on the piano. Her career started out with Barry Manilow.

Things only went uphill from there. Those steel nerves and her grand sense of comedic timing eventually earned her a spot on the stage in the theater, from which she'd eventually move on down to the sandy acting shores, starring in classics like Beaches and The Rose.

And now, after all of those years on stage, she's become a gay icon, a straight icon, a theater icon, and whatever else you can possibly pair with icon. She's toting around a boatload of Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, and Emmy Awards, and she's got walls lined with platinum records from her years being so darn fab.

So what else could she possibly want to do in this lifetime? Bette not only is everything; she's done everything, too.

Well, almost everything, that is. It seems that while Bette, who will be in town on Tuesday to speak at the Wortham Theater Center for the Brilliant Lecture Series, was earning all those awards and being all fancy and fantastic, she skipped over a couple of bucket list items -- Bette-centric items -- and they're things that happen right around our fine city. It's a wrong that should be righted as soon as possible.

But don't worry, Ms Midler. We know how important bucket lists are, and we're here to help you out on this one. Here is the guide to all of the Bette-related stuff to do in Houston. And yes, we left "hang out with us and take selfies" off the list.

We know our limits.

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When Brilliant Met Divine: A Healthy Conversation with Bette Midler

Photo by Jonathan Pushnik
Bette Midler
She sings. She dances. She acts. She jokes. She cleans up decrepit, crumbling urban properties. She wins awards for all those things. And she also, simply, talks.

In a bit of a departure from her standard high-production fare, on April 29, Bette Midler, the aptly monikered Divine Miss M, addresses the equal-parts anticipatory/participatory audience of the Brilliant Lecture Series.

"I'm happy to be doing this event. I've been doing them for a couple of years now, I kind of enjoy them," Bette Midler remarked on her upcoming Q-and-A appearance with the series which this year has also welcomed luminaries Betty Buckley, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton. "I've been to Minneapolis, I went to Niagara Falls, I mean, I've been around.

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