Murder Ballad at TUTS Underground Lights up the Stage

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Christian Brown
Lauren Molina in the rock musical Murder Ballad
The setup:

Murder Ballad began in an intimate venue in Manhattan and then moved to a much larger venue, but in both offered an "immersive" experience, as the audience is made in some ways part of the action on stage. TUTs Underground has achieved this in the 500-seat Zilkha hall by inviting the audience on stage, prior to the play beginning, installing a working bar in front at audience level, and by seating ten patrons scattered on three tables on the stage itself. All this adds considerable interest, and works beautifully.

The execution:

This is a sung-through rock musical, fueled by Mediterranean passions, and the desire of one woman, Sara, to have it all, both uptown and downtown, both husband/family and hot lover. She is played by Lauren Molina, who delivers a knockout performance. She is blond, fit, and beautiful, what young men call a "hardbody" - this is a compliment, describing a confident, self-assertive woman who knows what she wants, and usually gets it. Most definitely, a dude-magnet.

Sara herself is passionately in love with bartender Tom (Steel Burkhardt), dark hair, handsome, fit, and their simulated lovemaking heats up the stage, the barstools and the bar itself; those in the front row may find their glasses steaming up. But Tom is loath to commit, perhaps because bartenders have special "opportunities" rarely available to accountants.

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The Philadelphia Story: UH Revives the Classic Comedy

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Forest Photography
Zack Walker and Jessica Riley in The Philadelphia Story now at UH

The setup:

Philip Barry's drawing-room comedy of manners, The Philadelphia Story, was a hit on Broadway in 1939, and was made into an award-winning film in 1940. Both starred Katharine Hepburn in a theatrical comeback after some box office disappointments.

The execution:

The Hepburn role of Tracy Lord Haven dominates the play, and is here portrayed by Jessica Riley, who is tall, slender, beautiful and exciting, and quite credible as a wealthy and strong-willed woman, used to getting her own way. Now divorced, Tracy had been married for a year to CK Dexter Haven, here portrayed by Benjamin McLaughlin, who brings energy, sprightly charm and a sense of humor to this key role.


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Really Really Checks Into College-Age Ambition With Unlikeable Characters

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Pin Lim
James Monaghan and Teresa Zimmermann in Really Really from Black Lab Theatre.
The setup:

Really Really is a college-age drama about the young and the ambitious, though some are more ambitious than others. Playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo reportedly wrote the play when he was 21 - he is still under 30 - and revised it for a 2112 production. It opened at the widely-respected Signature Theatre in Arlington, and another production opened the same year at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan. Both productions were extended and are reported to have sold out.

The execution:

The split set is excellent, showing on one side the small house that Grace (Rachel Rubin) rents, and shares with Leigh (Teresa Zimmermann), and on the other the apartment that Cooper (Blake Weir) shares with Davis (Scott Gibbs). The other characters are Johnson (Dominique Champion), an African-American classmate and friend of Davis, Jimmy (James Monaghan), the boyfriend of Leigh, and, entering late, Leigh's sister Haley (Chelsea Sarratt), who comes to visit Leigh.

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The Whipping Man: A Story About Slavery and Religion

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre
A tale of religion and freedom

The setting is a mansion that's been abandoned and essentially destroyed in Richmond, Va., in the waning days of the U.S. Civil War. A wounded Confederate soldier, who is Jewish, returns to his family's home to find only two people there, both former slaves and in the conversation that follows, buried truths are revealed.

In The Whipping Man, playwright Matthew Lopez explores the little known fact that some Jews of that time were slave owners, passing their religion on to the people they owned, but apparently without seeing the contradiction with their own beliefs or indeed problems with the institution of slavery.

Stages Repertory Theatre hosts returning visiting Director Seth Gordon (The Unexpected Man) who is Jewish and was surprised by what he found out when he first read the play two years ago.


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This Year's Winners of the Tommy Tune Awards

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Bruce Bennett
Amber Scott from Carver High School performing at the Tommy Tune Awards
Clear Springs High School dominated the Tommy Tune Awards this year, winning nine awards for its production of Urinetown: Best Musical, Best Leading Actress (Emily Lewis), Best Supporting Actor( Stephen Louis), Best Direction, Best Musical Direction, Best Ensemble/Chorus, Best Crew & Technical Execution, Best Scenic Design, and Best Lighting Design.

Theatre Under the Stars, which sponsors the Tommy Tune Awards, announced the 2014 winners this week at the Hobby Center to a crowd of more than 2,500 people. Nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune made a special appearance to present the night's top honor.

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Cock: A Comedic Drama Where Love Is About the Person, Not the Gender

Categories: Stage

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(Photo by Theatre LaB Houston)
Dain Geist, Bobby Haworth and Haley Hussey form a romantic triangle in the comedic drama Cock, from Theatre LaB and Obsidian Art Space.
The setup:

The comedic drama Cock won an Olivier Award in London in 2010, selling out at an intimate upstairs Royal Court Theatre venue before it opened. It was presented off-Broadway in 2012, garnering critical acclaim, and a five-month run. Despite its provocative title, it is not salacious, but is a sharply-etched depiction of human needs, presented with engaging humor, and without judging these needs.

The execution:

The familiar romantic triangle, a staple of theater, takes on the aura of originality, as the man torn between two lovers here is asked to choose between a man and a woman; I underline "asked to choose" as that is the dynamic of this work. John (Bobby Haworth) has been comfortably ensconced in a homosexual relationship with "M" (Dain Geist) -- unnamed to suggest universality - in M's posh residence. John meets "W" (Haley Hussey), also unnamed, who persuades him to have sex with her, beginning an affair.

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The Winter's Tale: A Story of Kingly Privilege and Huge Mistakes

Categories: Stage

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A king misunderstands a meeting between his pregnant wife and his longtime friend and fellow king. He thinks she has been unfaithful; she hasn't.

"And because he is a king, he acts upon it with finality,"said actor David Wald who plays King Leontes in The Winter's Tale, one of the most unusual of Shakespeare's works in that it is a tragedy for three acts, a comedy in the fourth (at a sheep shearing party no less) and then a melding together of what went before in the fifth act. Oh and there's a 16-year gap somewhere in the middle of all this.

Stark Naked Theatre Company's co-founder and director Philip Lehl will direct. "I've been teaching Shakespeare for the last five to ten years. I thought it was high time that I directed one of his plays. I've always thought The Winter's Tale was a special play of his," Lehl said.

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The Importance of Being Earnest Is Oscar Wilde at His Best

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Pim Lin
Pamela Vogel as Lady Bracknell, John Johnston as Jack, and Lindsay Ehrhardt as Gwendolen
The set-up:
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's glittering comic bauble, his last play and masterpiece (1895), gleams brighter the older it gets. I challenge anyone to name a funnier play. Classical Theatre Company's production sets off sparks of its own, but doesn't quite approach the Tiffany setting this unique jewel so richly deserves.

The execution:

Wilde subtitled his delightful comedy "a trivial play for serious people," and this eminent Victorian did not disappoint. G.B. Shaw, reviewing the premiere, enviously called it "froth without pith." It is all that, and more. Written as if with a needle, Earnest skewers the posh upper classes with a dismissive wave of the hand. The implicit irony is thick, but it's handled like master chief Escoffier whipping up the silkiest of cream. Wilde beats his 19th century audience about the head with the lightest and funniest velvet gloves. No comedy before or since has been so trivial, yet so chock full of meaning. Artifice, just as Wilde himself so desperately desired to live it to its fullest, is raised to high art.


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Rice University Does Well by Little Shop of Horrors

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Ian Mellor-Crummey
Bryce Willey and Ariana Morgan as lovers in Little Shop of Horrors at Rice

The setup:

There is nothing little about Little Shop of Horrors, a comedic musical spoof by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, a rock musical about a hapless florist shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh. It made a fortune for its investors, running for five years, 1982 to 1987, at the Orpheum Theater in Manhattan's East Village and exiting as the highest grossing off-Broadway production in history. Nor is there anything little about its enduring ability to delight audiences, and the apparently universal appeal of its book, and its music.

The execution:

Rice University has given this gem the quality production it deserves. The setting is a downscale florist shop on skid row, and set designers Mark Krouskop and Jake LaViola, clearly brilliant, have created not only the shop, but the neighborhood, as a strongly three-dimensional set includes the buildings behind the skid row, graffiti on exterior walls, and "lounging" areas for impoverished denizens. Our hero is Seymour (Bryce Willey), shy and easily intimidated, in love with co-worker Audrey (Ariana Morgan), and working for the shop's owner, Mr. Mushnik (Curtis Barber).

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Insko Lends Time Stands Still Some Tracks

Categories: Stage

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Insko
Over at Main Street Theater you can catch some seriously dark excellence in the form of Donald Margulies's play Time Stands Still, and just to make it even sweeter local band Insko has lent their music to the score.

The play follows two journalists played by Sean Patrick Judge and the always-awesome Sara Gaston as they return from covering the horrors of the Iraq War. At the center of their lives are heaps of survivor's guilt and deep questions about the nature of what they do. Are they actually improving the world by chronicling such tragedies as parents burying their own children killed in combat, or are they simply showing us such things with no appreciable positive impact on society.

To really capture the mood of the internal struggles of our two heroes sound designer Alex Worthington decided to bring in the music of Insko, who play every note like it's coming straight out of a dream. Their work is ethereal and strange, and just perfect for the mental tribulations that they are being explored in the play.

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