Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Age of The Packaged Musical: “Hair” rocks out


Steel Burkhardt


Matt DeAngelis

Phyre Hawkins

Kaitlin Kiyan

Darius Nichols

Paris Remillard

Kacie Sheik

Caren Lyn Tackett

Emily Afton

Shaleah Adkisson

Nicholas Belton

Larkin Bogan

Corey Bradley

Laura Dreyfuss

Mike Evariste

Marshal Kennedy Carolan

Lulu Fal
Tribe/Abraham Linocln

Tripp Fountain

Nkrumah Gatling

Allison Guinn

Josh Lamon
Tribe/Father/Margaret Mead

John Moauro

Christine Nolan

Emmy Raver-Lampman

Arbender Robinson

Cailan Rose

Tanesha Ross

Sara Ruzicka

Jen Sese

Lee Zarrett
Tribe/Principal/Hubert/John Wilkes Booth

Now having seen yet another musical, I appreciate it for a piece of work, but also as a brand name. This was very much the case with “Hair” which is currently playing at the Boston Colonial Theater. The show is currently on tour, having had a very successful revival and run in New York, nabbing the Tony for Best Revival. I had seen a production of “Hair” years ago so I wanted to see a new interpretation. As expected, this show was strong and had great talent and technical aspects to boot. In this easily accessible show, you get a taste of Broadway in a prepackaged rocking experience.

To me, doing “Hair” today makes sense, considering the parallels of what was going on back then and today. I was there to see a show and I ended up being thoroughly impressed with the production as a whole. The story depicts various hippies during the late sixties, who refer to themselves as “The Tribe” who are dealing with the changing world. They embrace love and life and continuously stand up to the establishment. We get a glimpse of a few characters who struggle to keep true to themselves and to never lose sight of their beliefs and ideals. Specifically, the only character with a genuine story in all of this is Claude. He must come to terms with his family and their desire for him to enlist and go fight for his country. Does he choose his friends and their free lifestyle, or the pressures of duty and family? It is a hard path to travel. Amongst the Tribe are various races that want to love and help change the world. Looking beyond the color of the skin, they are community first, entwined in their love and ideals.

The book and lyrics were by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot composed the music. I’m not all that familiar with them, but as a rock musical, it definitely had some great moments. A lot the numbers were fairly strong, but the numbers that stuck with me were the obvious opening “The Age of Aquarius” which was beautifully sung, starting off the production with a bang. To me, the number can either make or break a production. I was happy to see and hear it soar through the house. The other song that has been a favorite was “White Boys”. The song is fun, bubbly and all around a good time. The ladies rocked it out and you could tell they were having a blast. It was definitely an energetic number and it gave me goose bumps. "Let The Sunshine/The Flesh Failures" also makes its way into all the hearts and minds of the audience. Its delivered with so much underlying power. As its reprise comes around, you feel the energy of the house and the cast. You can't help but dance and move.

As for the performances, the Tribe was an integral part of the show and they did a good job. At points, it was hard to hear a lot of the singing from them, but I imagine a lot of it had to do with the tech and sound of the mics. Steel Burkhardt, who plays Berger, immediately jumps into the role, and into the audience. He plays a carefree jokester, playing to the crowd and seemed at ease in the role. Paris Remellard, who plays Claude, creates a very conflicted character in the show, as he carries the bulk of the story on his shoulders. We see and feel his confusion and his desire to become invisible, wanting to escape this harsh reality. However, the role that I was probably impressed with the most was Dionne, the girl responsible for “Age of Aquarius” and the ringleader during “White Boys.” Played with such raw sexuality and attitude, Phyre Hawkins nails her songs with such power and emotion. With names like that, you got to deliver. They definitely seemed like they were having a lot of fun. As for the orchestra, they caught the feel and sensations of the sounds of the sixties. They were spot on and blended well with the stage and performers.

Technically, the show is mind-blowing. The lights in every scene capture every emotion that is presented on stage. With love, the warmer colors come out, with confusion, sharper colors, and with frustration, the darker colors present themselves. I loved the lighting design of this show. One particular part is a hallucination appears on stage, and various colors are used to bring us into the world of the mind. The doubts, the frustrations and fears have colors that I never expected. It was amazing. The set also was extremely impressive. With several carpets laid about and a giant sun in the background, it’s a beautiful tapestry that has been brought to life. The set, staging and lights work in tandem. I can only imagine there were a thousand different cues at least. I was a huge fan of the effort and work that created this world.

The direction of the piece is bold yet simple. With minimal dancing but stylized movements, it works very well. As expected, the cast makes it way into the audience making us part of the show. It would be a crime NOT to have audience interaction. Its something that goes hand in hand. As I mentioned earlier, the staging of various scenes, including the hallucination, was so incredible. As I don’t want to reveal specifically what happens, everything works. There is not a bad staging choice in the moments and I felt that we were really in the plane of the mind. In a highly stylized version of the mind, obviously, its definitely a departure from everything else. I loved it. As for the ending of the show, as I don’t want to spoil anything, is something you must see for yourself. I couldn’t believe how it was done. Less is more, apparently. It worked.

“Hair” is a solid rock musical with a gaggle of performers who not only work hard to create this world, but you can see why they do what they do. The sheer joy of it is definitely present. With a powerful opening and finish, the show presents a never-ending message of sense of identity and choice, something many of us struggle with in our own lives. I love the fact that shows tour, giving a chance for everyone to see the work and love that gets put into a production of this size. For those who can’t make it to New York, it’s a chance to get a sense and feel of the energies. It’s a great experience.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Prometheus Bound” is simply incredible

Prometheus Bound

Script and lyrics by
Steven Sater (from the play by Aeschylus)

Music composed by
Serj Tankian

Directed by
Diane Paulus

Stephen Petronio

Set Design
Riccardo Hernandez

Costume Design
Emily Rebholz

Lighting Design
Kevin Adams

Serj Tankian

Gavin Creel*

Lea DeLaria*

Michael Cunio*

Gabriel Ebert*

Daughter of the Aether
Jo Lampert*

Daughter of the Aether
Celina Carvajal*

Daughter of the Aether
Ashley Flanagan*

Uzo Aduba*

(*) members of Actors Equity Association

Emmanuel Avellanet
Kevin Lin
Bart Mather

I don’t really go out much to see the ART shows, but when I saw the posters for “Prometheus Bound” I was immediately intrigued. I wasn’t too familiar with the original Greek play by Aeschylus so when I saw it was translated and made into a rock musical, how could I resist? The show itself was being presented at the Oberon Club, where The Donkey Show was playing its extended run. I had been the Oberon before, but when I walked in and saw we’d be standing and watching the show, it felt like I was about to see a rock concert. Another added bonus was the fact the book was written Steven Sater, known for his work on the musical Spring Awakening. The music was composed by Serj Tankian, the man best known for his amazing work as the lead singer for System of a Down.

Prometheus Bound was based on the Greek play that told the story of a Titan, Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the gods in order to give it to mankind. In addition, he gave them the power of knowledge as well, much to the chagrin of the new king of the Gods, Zeus. Before all of this occurred, Prometheus and a few others sided with Zeus and the new Gods to overthrow this previous rule, establishing himself as an advisor and friend in this new kingdom. However, after delivering the power of these new gifts to mankind, Zeus ordered him to be chained and bound. He would remain so for all eternity, and to top it off, have his liver ripped out every day by birds only to have it grow back, repeating this daily torture. Despite his punishment and the pleading of others, Prometheus refuses to give in and apologize for his actions, truly believing in his cause.

Where do I begin with this show? Everything about this production blew me away. Immediately when the show starts, the opening number sung by the cast, "The Hounds of Law" sets the tone with pulsating rocking sounds that echoed through the club and through the audience. It was amazing. The cast’s voices blended so well and I was immediately hooked. I immediately starting a bit of light head banging myself, moving with this amazing score. The music was a bit of a departure (not by much) from System of A Down’s work, but you could still hear slight similarities, with waling guitar riffs and synthy tones. For every rocking number, there were sweeter and softer powerful songs such as "The Hunger", a beautiful number sung by Io, a woman who had been pursued by Zeus, and the chorus like Daughters of Aether, creating this hauntingly beautiful atmosphere throughout. I was practically in tears as they sang this telling tune. The music and lyrics for this show were so well crafted and there was so much variation. No song was like the other and I truly enjoyed every bit of it. It was hard to pick a favorite.

As for the cast, each played their parts magnificently. Gavin Kreel, a man who is basically a super rock star, wails and resonates as Prometheus. In a few words? He brings down the house. He spends the majority of the show bound and chained, and we feel his angst as he is brought forth in the middle of the audience. We are seeing him in such pain, but he never lets up on his fortitude. His voice is fantastic and he delivers a raw and powerful performance. Lea Delaria plays Force, a demigod who is sadistic and charismatic all in one, which she plays incredibly well. She is enjoying herself and has a wondrous voice. Who knew it was so good to be bad? During one number she scats like no other, which immediately caused my mind to be blown. Uzo Aduba plays Io, beautifully creating a lost yet unshaken soul who has a touching moment with Prometheus. Her sadness brought tears the audience and her voice carries far and wide, filled with so many overwhelming emotions, including anger and pride. Hermes, the messenger God, is incredibly well played by Gabe Ebert. With snarkiness and smugness, he is having a blast, and he delivers his number in the latter part of the show with utter camp and sheer Puckish joy. Earlier in the show, he plays the smith God Hephaestus, but its his performance as Hermes that shows his true skill. Prometheus’ friend and fellow Titan, Oceanos, is played marvelously by Michael Cunio. His pleading and love for his friend to apologize for what hes done is captured so well in his voice his strong movements. Lastly, but not least, Jo Lampert, Celina Carvajal and Ashley Flanagan play the chorus like Daughters of Aether, dressed in angel wings, who each give strong performances individually and worked incredibly well as a unit. Their movements are eerily captivating and their interaction with Prometheus is heart wrenching. It is a sight to be held.

Diane Paulus’ direction is as expected: genius. Oberon is a large club, the kind of looks like an old factory. She creates a beautiful yet dark world and brings the audience in bit by bit. She utilizes nearly every nook and cranny of the space, causing the audience to look around, keeping us on our toes. She has the actors move through the space and with various set pieces. We become a part of the show, immersing us in the world of the Gods and Promethus’ struggle. It was a strong choice that paid off. She combined a rock concert, nightclub and theatrical experience all in one. It was fantastic.

The costumes designed by Emily Rebholz were simple enough, but they varied in styles, whether it was shirtless, lead singer Prometheus, 80s keytar player Hermes with metal helmet, or Forces' punk Goth rocker, she delivers. Each costume was crafted to fit each character’s personality, that I think worked very well. Along with the costumes, the lights and sets were also worth mentioning. Using the whole of the space including the balconies throughout and very little other than a few pieces brought in through the audience, the set included a stage that propped the loud and brash and super talented orchestra. (which included a sitar and upright bass. It was awesome. ) Also there were 3 metal ladders that were utilized heavily throughout, that created wonderful use of levels. As for the lights, they heightened emotion throughout, using a tremendous color palette. Specifically, there was a great use of green for one actor in part of the space. The lights flashed from green to a black out as he sung and pulsated throughout one number in the show. There were lights used for every emotion, which once again created the feel of a rock concert. Kevin Adams, lighting designer and Riccardo Hernandez, set designer knew how to contribute to this world that everyone had created.

I could go on and on about how wonderful this show was, but I feel I need to stop somewhere. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but I do enjoy being pleasantly surprised, and then some. This is show is something that can’t be missed. There was not a single dull moment and each aspect of this show contributed to one heck of an evening. “Prometheus Bound” delivers a strong message of standing up for whats right beneath its rocking score and ancient texts, while making us want to stand up to oppression, with fists raised, ready to fight.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The musical itself doesn’t impress but the actors in “Curtains” do their best...

Book by Rupert Holmes
Music by John Kander Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Director: Paul Murphy
Music Director: Matt Stern
Choreographer: Michael Hogman
Production Manager: Dot Santos

Carmen Bernstein      Jackie Coco
Niki Harris                Heather Darrow
Lt. Frank Cioffi         Aaron Bowers
Georgia Hendricks    Johanna Perri
Aaron Fox                David Warnock
Sidney Bernstein       Bob Pascucci
Christopher Belling    John Pease
Bambi Bernet            Lindsay Holland Hemingway
Jessica Cranshaw      Linda Burtt
Joanna Harmon        Tricia Akowicz
Oscar Shapiro          Dan Moore
Daryl Grady              Jerry Kaplan
Bobby Pepper          Andrew Swansburg
Detective O’Farrell   Charlie Carr

Dance Ensemble

Tiffany Carnucci
Jennifer Gratz
Michael Hogman
Jayson Shawn Paulling
Dana Schlegel

I recently attended production of “Curtains” currently being performed at the Arlington Friends of the Drama. I had never heard much of the music but was familiar with Fred Kander and John Ebb, the composers of the music, having created such memorable musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret, just to name a few. The book was written Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes. Though Stone I was not familiar with, Holmes is best known for with “Escape” for all those Pina Colada lovers out there, as well as “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” for everyone else. As for the show itself, I never went beyond the Wikipedia article so this was going to be a new experience all together.

The show takes place in 1959, at the Colonial Theater in Boston, MA where a new musical, Robbin’ Hood (a western version of Robin Hood) is reaching its end, creating a musical within a musical. The cast finishes up its Finale and once the bows begin marking the end of the show, their leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw, collapses. Soon, learning more about our players in this production, we discover that the fading leading lady was not only poisoned and killed, but everyone in the company could care less. Enter Lt. Frank Cioffi, who reveals Jessica was actually murdered. He takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of this zany mystery to uncover the truth in a theater company full of suspects. Various characters’ backgrounds are revealed and new subplots are introduced. We learn that is more to this story than your run of the mill whodunit.

The show itself is reasonably new, having played on Broadway in 2007, but is not at all that memorable or breaking any new ground as a musical. A bit far from traditional Kander and Ebb, the show never really sticks with you afterward and feels a bit long and drawn out. You can almost feel the actors energies dwindling by the end. However, this does not take away from a few key performances in this production. Heather Darrow plays Nikki Harris, a sweet and smart actress who plays in the company who understudies for the lead. Darrow plays her with a nice bubbly appearance without overdoing it, creating a fun and enjoyable character caught up in the mess of this murder mystery. She also has the pipes and the dancing to boot, creating a very impressive triple threat. In another strong performance, John Pease plays the flamboyant director Christopher Belling, with utter snarkiness and class who doesn’t have to try too hard for a laugh. His strong delivery of each joke is neither forced or out of place. He manages to channel that person who is not only sincere in his compliments and insults, but he is extremely committed to the character. His commanding demeanor is definitely something not to be missed.

The ensemble carries it own through a strongly choreographed show. Having multiple costume changes and all sorts of different styles, they manage to make the most challenging move look easy. They represent a strong backbone in many of the group numbers, particularly a great usage of their hats and chairs during “Thataway” at the end of the first act.

Costumers Linda Burtt, Kimmerie Jones and Tracy Wall had created some wonderful pieces, dressing the actors in wonderful and soft colors, capturing the western feel as well as the period of the 1950s in which the show took place. The actors looked comfortable and their colors complimented each other nicely. I particularly loved the dresses the women got to wear, especially in the dresses in opening and finale during Robbin’ Hood.

Ron Dion's set is simple and surprisingly quick to change over. The set was limited, other than the depiction of backstage and later various places where Robbin’ Hood took place. Each were painted beautifully and the illusion was created nicely. However, in the 2nd act, a very impressive moving set piece makes its debut and I wished that it had its own curtain call. (You have to see it for yourself.)

Though, at many times, I feared for the lives of the orchestra, who were placed in the front row of the house as actors moved up and down the stage. The show size was overwhelming for such a small space and much of the choreography seemed ambitious. The stage during the bigger dance numbers felt cluttered and sometimes cramped. One particular number, “Show People” was strong in voice and dance, but felt like the actors didn’t have a lot of room to do their thing. The music and book for the show as I mentioned are not very well crafted and often seemed generic. I didn’t walk away humming any tunes and wished there was more meat in the score. The story feels like a it was taken from various other shows never going beyond your basic plot of crazy characters put in an unlikely situation. The actors are not to blame for this lack of substance in writing and composing. All in all the actors manage to do their best in this less than amazing show.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Something new...

I love theatre. Again...Can't stress that enough. I love the creation and the process of seeing a show start from the page and ends up on the stage. I love seeing the pieces come together to form a vision and idea come alive. Its an amazing, frustrating, delightful, annoying, ugly, fantastic, facinating, beautiful and terrifying experience. I would've said more, but those were the only adjectives that came to mind. :)

So, a few weeks ago I discovered that I love not only being in theatre, I love talking about it. I love discussing various aspects of the productions. I enjoy all forms of theatre and I really think expanding my horizons will give me a new perspective. Theatre is really a group effort and I want to try to examine that in more detail. I find I have a knack for seeing the production as a whole, whether the production is a good one or not so good one based on my own observations. It doesn't matter. It matters that work was put in, often times an INSANE amount of work to bring this idea to the stage. I can't wait to explore it more. I thought Id take a crack at reviewing various productions I see around this town. Boston has a lot of theatre going on and I want to see what they have to offer. Being off the stage and viewing them as a patron will definitely be a bit more interesting and I hope to learn a lot.

In saying that, lets see whats out there. I think in a lot of ways it going to be challenging because I never really could see myself being on the other side, especially when it comes to writing. If I manage to at least review 10 different shows over the next few months, I think that will be something.

I plan on looking at sorts of productions, small and big, musicals and plays. Let see what happens.

Stay tuned...