Playwright Theresa Rebeck Directs the Alley Production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of the Alley Theatre
Theresa Rebeck, playwright and director

It's a family with a terrible secret. Businessman Joe Keller made money selling defective airplane engine parts to the U.S. military. As a result, 21 American pilots died because of the faulty equipment. Keller, the picture of a devoted family man, has sidestepped any blame in the matter but his partner is in jail shouldering the blame for Keller's actions.

Sounds like something from today's news, but famed playwright Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons almost 70 years ago. His message about war profiteering speaks as loudly now as it did in the post-World War II era when it was written says Theresa Rebeck, who is directing this production at the Alley Theatre.

Rebeck, a Pulitzer-nominated playwright of some note herself (Fool, What We're Up Against, Mauritius) whose work is frequently shown at the Alley says Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd urged her to take on directing reins.

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stupid f*****g bird Is a Good F*****g Play

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Bruce Bennett
Elizabeth Ann Townsend, Shawn Hamilton and James Belcher in Stupid F##king Bird at Stages Repertory Theatre
The set-up:
If you were an upper middle class character in some classic Russian play at the end of the 19th century, let's say Chekhov's The Seagull, your sad but comic melancholy would be worn on your sleeve. It would be an elaborately embroidered sleeve, to be sure, from the finest cotton and starched by hand, but the emotions would be guarded and a bit circumspect. If you're a an upper middle class character in a sly update of said theater classic, let's say Aaron Posner's stupid f*****g bird, you'd wear your melancholic frustrations emblazoned across your t-shirt for all to see. Feelings to live by, revel in, out there, twittered through the universe.

The execution:
Thoroughly mesmerizing, never less than entertaining and provocative (how about that title, huh?), Posner's epic knockoff (2013) is much more a love letter to the theater than it is to Chekhov. Yes, bird riffs on the 1895 Russian comedy as starting point, invoking most of the famous characters, plot and situations that are by now almost patented devices, but Posner filters the whole thing through post-modern gimlet eyes until the play becomes a meditation on theater itself. Is your life changed, it wants to ask, by going out to the theater, this theater, Stages, and watching a play, this play, which has been written by one of the characters? And by the way, are you not a character in your own play right now? Haven't you ever felt like you were watching yourself act through life?


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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Slaps You Awake

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Daniel Brodie
Ryan Williams as Pharoah and Ace Young as Joseph
The set-up:
If you're feeling a bit sleepy when Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat begins, don't worry, the show will slap you awake fast. And hard. This is the most frenetic show in memory, fast-paced, constantly on the go, terrifically cheesy. Nobody and nothing stops. Ever. It's the siege of Leningrad as pop video concert. Light cues come and go like an aerial bombardment, the chintzy set pieces (a staircase or two, a table, some platforms, backdrop curtains) are shoved around by the cast and then shoved away; and the non-stop video designs by Daniel Brodie, which a few times really do look wonderful if never truly magical, are the Broadway equivalent to obsessive compulsive disorder.

The execution:
Although this first collaboration between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice has had various incarnations ever since it premiered as a cantata at a London boys school in 1968, you can date this pop opera circa 1973, after its West End production, although that wasn't its final version. There were concerts, a concept CD, more tinkering, another London production, then a transfer to off-off-Broadway at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and finally, a Broadway debut in 1982. Coming as it did on the heels of Webber and Rice's phenomenons, Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) and Evita (1979), Joseph did well enough, but didn't have the pedigree. It's lasted much longer on the regional circuit and as a trusted mainstay of high schools.


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Puppeteer Receives Grant to Tell Houston Stories

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Camella Clements
Camella Clements, one of the talented puppeteers at Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre, has received a $10,000 grants from the Houston Art Alliance to stage a triptych of unique plays showcasing Houston history.

"I've done a lot of shows about what I call the pedagogy of place," says Clements. "It's the study of where you live and how it shapes who you are.

Tentatively the project is called Salubrious and Well-Watered, a reference to a line in an advertisement that was the foundation of Houston itself and the basis for one of Clements's trio of shows. The ad ran in The Telegraph and Texas Register In 1836, urging people to come to the town of Houston on Buffalo Bayou. It's a famously duplicitous piece of marketing that mentions fresh spring water when most of the drinking water came from the bayou, boasted of sea breezes that could hardly be felt in the sweltering swamp, and utterly neglected to mention the hordes of mosquitoes that killed 30 percent of Houstonians from yellow fever for the first two decades.

"It was the greatest real estate swindler ever," says Clements. "But you know, in a good way."

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Stupid F##king Bird Requires Audience Participation at Stages

Categories: Stage

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Anton Chekhov's take on life, love and artistic integrity, The Seagull, has been a masterpiece for generations. Meet Aaron Posner--the cheeky playwright who has sort-of adapted the show for modern audiences--and named it, Stupid F##king Bird.

Directed at Stages Repertory Theatre by Kenn McLaughlin, "Bird" follows the story of an aspiring playwright, Con, who is based on The Seagull's Konstantin Treplev, and who is in love with his play's leading lady.

His mother is an aging actress, and his mother's lover is a famous writer. No one is content, however, and this unfulfilled artistic ennui lends itself to some great speeches about art.


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Audra McDonald Wows at UH's Madison Artist Series

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Photo courtesy of the University of Houston
Audra McDonald
She's played a doctor in a Grey's Anatomy spinoff, Billie Holiday in a new musical commemorating her life, the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, and so many other disparate roles that even she probably can't keep track of them.

Singer and actress Audra McDonald, holder of six Tony Awards and two Grammys on the side, brought her talents to Houston for a one-night-only performance Tuesday to benefit the University of Houston's Moores School of Music through the Madison Artist Series.

Singing at the Wortham Theater, McDonald showed off her strong vibrato and sliding glissandi amid an assortment of show tunes and blues numbers, accompanied by her touring pianist and music director Andy Einhorn.

"The last time I was singing here was in 2006, and I got one of the worst reviews of my life," McDonald said after her opening number.

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Once Is a Wonderful Musical Theater at the Hobby Center

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Joan Marcus
Stuart Ward as Guy and Dani de Waal as Girl in Once
The set-up:
I can say this without any qualification whatever: Once is one magnificent piece of musical theater.

Unique, extremely entertaining, filled with joyous music that limns both heartbreak and possibility, crafted with exceptional stage know-how, and put across with bold strokes of old-fashioned Broadway chutzpah, this little show fills up the mighty Hobby Center and spills out into downtown, spreading a golden warmth unlike anything else in recent memory.


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Despite Strong Performances, A Midsummer Night's Dream Lost the Magic

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Gabriella Nissen
Jesse Merrill as Flute (playing Thisbe)
As I drove east down Spring Street toward Stark Naked Theatre's playhouse at Studio 101, where Shakespeare's glorious nocturne A Midsummer Night's Dream awaited, what should appear dominating the downtown skyline but an incredibly huge, rising full moon, bright and gigantic like a harbinger of spring's beginning or wonders to appear. It had to be an omen of good things to come. Alas and alack, when the show was over, the moon had returned to its rightful place, still full but a lot smaller and far away, smothered in clouds. It had been an omen all right.

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Arrive in Houston With an Updated Version

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars
Talk about bright!
It's the story of the trials of Joseph, the kid who was his father's favorite out of 12 brothers and had the special coat to prove it, and could see the future through dreams (although somehow he missed that his envious brothers would throw him in a pit and sell him to slavers carrying him on down to Egypt land).

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is on its way back to Houston thanks to Theatre Under the Stars and this rebuffed version stars the husband-wife duo of Diana DeGarmo (Narrator) and Ace Young (Joseph).


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Once Tells the Story of a Dublin Street Musician's Dreams and the Woman Who Inspires Him

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Joan Marcus
They dance, sing and play at the same time in Once

Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Once tells the story of a Dublin street musician, "Guy," who thanks to the help of a beautiful woman, "Girl," decides to continue pursuing his career in music.

John Steven Gardner, who plays Eamon, a sound engineer at a recording studio, in the touring production coming to the Hobby Center courtesy of Broadway Across America, also serves as the "Music Captain" for the show.

"It's to help keep what we did in rehearsal in August 2013 intact. Once gives all of the actors an unusual amount of creative freedom. A lot of the parts we came up with in rehearsals."

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