Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How "Safe" Should Theatre Be?

In a note from Producing Director Jim Crabtree (a.k.a Head Dude in Charge) that was in the playbill for Chicago (currently at the Cumberland County Playhouse) there is a question asked of patrons:

“We are a bit out on a limb, for a “family theatre” with Chicago. But should our stage speak only of warm friendly stories, only of traditional, untroubled, comforting families and friends? Clearly, we love to celebrate heritage, beauty, tradition, integrity, and values. But the broader, sometimes dysfunctional family of humanity is very real.
“Is the dysfunctional world, and its starker tabloid stories, its flash and trash, something about which we should speak?
“Please let us know.”

Well, Mr. Crabtree, below is my answer to your question.

YES!

The truth of the matter is that life isn’t perfect for anyone. If they say it is, they are not being truthful with anyone, least of all themselves. In today’s world you are met daily with people who are cynical and jaded. The world (the media?) and life in it has made us this way. We are a post 9/11 world. Even the most conservative people will admit that life isn’t what it used to be.

Theatre serves several different purposes, and while I’ll admit that one of them is to make you forget for a few hours and slip into a “perfect world,” that can get old at times. Happy endings are wonderful. Sometimes I even wish for them. But living life has taught me that the real world is more like “A Christmas Story” and less like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

These generations of people who are living in a world that is often confusing and troubled need something to relate with when they come to the theatre. Sometimes you want to escape, other times you just want someone to say “I understand you.” We are, unfortunately, a generation that is offended by little and shocked by even less.

It’s a balancing act. I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that it isn’t. But I think there can be a balance of “safe” and “not so safe” theatre at the Cumberland County Playhouse. The talent that is housed there is incredible and I loved seeing it used to share a story like Chicago. I hope that CCP will continue to take these risks. And I think that there are others feel the same way that I do.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chicago!

Joann Coleman as Velma Kelly

Last night was the opening night for Chicago at the Cumberland County Playhouse. If it hasn't been obvious from the multiple times I've posted about the show, I've been super excited about this production since I first heard that it was going to grace the mainstage at CCP.

Chicago is dark, edgy, and pushing the envelope for the traditionally family oriented theatre that is the Cumberland County Playhouse. But in my honest opinion, Chicago is just what the Playhouse needs to bring in a younger crowd and those who wouldn't normally attend a theatrical performance of any kind. Not to mention it is a fantastic show in and of itself.

One of my favorite things about this production was the lighting. Lighting was used over and over again to set the stage, the mood, the emotions of different aspects of the show. While I tend to like glitter and glitz in the literal sense, the lighting is what gave the show its sparkle. The set was simple, for the most part, but very effective in it uses. In combination with the lighting of the show, it was like walking into a seedy 1920s dive bar. Basically, it was perfect.

The costume designs were amazing. I know that it was very important to the powers that be at CCP to keep the show as conservative as possible in the costuming (one of the issues when you are running a "family" theatre). But in all honesty, they costumes were what I expected. They weren't nearly as conservative as I expected that they would be, but by no means were they inappropriate (mind you, I wouldn't take a very young child to this show...but I wouldn't have done that no matter who was doing the production; it's an adult show). I love that every single person in the cast had a different costume. It always amazes me how they can look the same, but totally different at the same time.

Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart were played by Joann Coleman and Ali Gritz, respectively. Both were amazing (as I knew they would be, since I saw them in Little Shop of Horrors). My biggest problem with the two of them was that when they were both on stage at the same time I had major issues determining who I should be watching! Coleman's disgruntled, turned desperate Velma was amazing. Her voice alone is worth going to see the show, and add in her fantastic acting and ability to command the stage and you had a perfectly cast lead role. Gritz played Roxie as innocence and sexuality all rolled into one. One second she was scared innocent, the next second she was immature and entitled. There were times when she would walk out on stage and I would stop watching whatever else was going on, simply to see what her next facial expression would be.

Daniel Black played the lovable "Mr. Cellophane," Amos Hart. Black had the amazing ability to make you relate to his character in any role he plays. This was no different. You can't help but feel pity and embarrassment for Amos Hart as he is played by his wife and her lawyer simply to bend him to their needs.

Slick lawyer, Billy Flynn was played by Britt Hancock. He had some of the best performances in the show, including "All I Care About" and "Razzle Dazzle." Hancock has the ability to make you love the character, even though you know that he's only doing the things he does for the love of the money and fame. Should you hate the character? Sure. But you can't. I was right when I said that he'd be the perfect Billy Flynn. He was.

The supporting cast, both male and female, were amazing. I've come to expect nothing less from the Cumberland County Playhouse. Choreography was by Leila Nelson and was beautiful. There were times when the choreography got across the edgy bits of the show that couldn't be spoken in words. With the talent of the dancers to go with the choreography, it made for several amazing ensemble performances, one of which was "We Both Reached For The Gun," which was the best number in the entire show, hands down.  

                      

There were so many other amazing performers in the show that I wish I could list them all individually. Just know that this show is more than worth seeing. I'll be seeing it again tomorrow, and I have no doubt several other times between now and when it's run ends on October 7th. My advice: click HERE and get tickets now. You won't regret it.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Man of La Mancha

There is a great thing about having a friend that is semi-involved in community theatre.... sometimes you can see shows for free by doing something cool, like ushering a show. That was the case with this show. I ushered, they let me stay and watch the show. No one knew I was going to blog about it. No one asked me to blog about it, but I did not pay for a ticket. (This is my disclaimer for this show, now on with the review!)

Man of LaMancha. What can I say about this show. When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher made us watch Don Quixote. At the time, I thought the movie was pretty cool. So when I figured out that Man of LaMancha was a musical version, I was all up for seeing it. The book is by Dale Wasserman and the music and lyrics by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion, respectively.

The town I went to college in, and that my best friend still lives in, has a very active theatre world. There is the theatre at the university and two separate theatres that have community type productions. This particular production was put on at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center.

I have good things to say about almost every production, but you also have to understand the difference in a professional production and a community theatre production. This musical was definitely a community theatre production. That aside, it was a pretty darn good community theatre production.

The costumes were pretty fantastic, in my opinion. Especially the costumes of the donkeys (amazing!!), Aldonza/Dulcinea, and Don Quixote, himself. My favorite was probably the prop piece that became Don Quixote's sword after he charged the windmill.

The star of the show, and the most talented person on that entire stage, was Rick Woods, who played the parts of Miguel De Cervantes, Alonso Quijana and Don Quixote. He was absolutely amazing. His rendition of "The Impossible Dream" gave me chills, flat out. Another standout, vocally, was Antonia (Alonso's niece), played by Ashley Francis. Her voice was fantastic.

The story itself is the best part. It's really a page out of Shakespeare's book, as it's a play within a play (and almost again, within another play). Miguel De Cervantes and his servant have been arrested during the Spanish Inquisition and are thrown in prison. Their fellow prisoners have plans to put them on their own Prisoner's Trial. To defend himself, Miguel De Cervantes begins to weave the story of Don Quixote, a crazed man who always sees the best in people and the positive side of things. But it turns out that Don Quixote is just Alonso Quijana, a crazed man who thinks he's Don Quixote.

Along the way, Don Quixote meets a hilarious cast of characters that partially fight his insanity, and partially play along with it. The songs in the show are pretty amazing, but my favorites are (of course) "The Impossible Dream" and "Dulcinea."

There are a few more times to see this show. It plays through July 23rd. If you are a fan of community theatre you will probably enjoy this show.

Chicago-Music Preview

Chicago opens tomorrow night at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I won't be seeing it until Saturday night, but I hope they "break a leg" on opening night and I have no doubt that they will. In preparation for Chicago's opening, the Cumberland County Playhouse has been posting You Tube videos of different things. I've already reposted some of them, but this one is fairly new. It is one of the practice sessions for the "pit."

It is amazing because every performance at the Playhouse has live music. Smaller theaters tend to part with live musicians in favor of tracts to save money. But not the Playhouse. Even in their times of financial crisis, they still have live music. I think that is noble and wonderful. Because truth of the matter is that live music is just better in a theatre performance. Period.

So, enjoy this video clip of the musicians performing the Entreact from Chicago. And remember it opens Thursday, July 21st. Get your tickets HERE.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicago Video Interviews

The Cumberland County Playhouse now has a YouTube channel. They've recently posted interviews with both the lead male and lead female cast members of the upcoming production of Chicago.

I've posted both videos below. Don't forget that Chicago opens this Thursday, July 21st. You can get your tickets HERE, follow them on facebook HERE, and on Twitter HERE.






Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chicago Set Preview

A little sneak peek at the set? Absolutely!

Less than a week until opening night. Be sure and get your tickets to see Chicago at the Cumberland County Playhouse. It opens July 21st and runs through October 7th.


You can purchase tickets by clicking HERE or by calling 931-484-5000 


You can also follow the official blog of the Cumberland County Playhouse, or find them on Twitter ( @CCPlayhouse ).

Once again, thank to John Fionte, director of Chicago, for emailing me these pictures. I can't wait to see the finished production!

Friday, July 15, 2011

1945 Code of Ethics

I believe that people these days don't always respect themselves or their work the way that they should. No matter what kind of work it is. (That makes me sound really old, doesn't it??) I do believe that people held themselves and others to different standards in the past. A perfect example of this was something I stumbled across online a few days ago.
It was found on LA Stage Times online. Apparently it is the code of ethics for a theatre company that was in LA in 1945. I've copied it below and the actual post can be found HERE.

Foreword to the Code

“A part of the great tradition of the theatre is the code of ethics which belong to every worker in the theatre. This code is not a superstition, nor a dogma, nor a ritual which is enforced by tribunals; it is an attitude toward your vocation, your fellow workers, your audiences and yourself. It is a kind of self-discipline which does not rob you of your invaluable individualism.
“Those of you who have been in show business know the full connotation of these precepts. Those of you who are new to show business will soon learn. The Circle Players, since its founding in 1945, has always striven to stand for the finest in theatre, and it will continue to do so. Therefore, it is with the sincere purpose of continued dedication to the great traditions of the theatre that these items are here presented.”

The “rules” follow:

1. I shall never miss a performance.

2. I shall play every performance with energy, enthusiasm and to the best of my ability regardless of size of audience, personal illness, bad weather, accident, or even death in my family.

3. I shall forego all social activities which interfere with rehearsals or any other scheduled work at the theatre, and I shall always be on time.

4. I shall never make a curtain late by my failure to be ready on time.

5. I shall never miss an entrance.

6. I shall never leave the theatre building or the stage area until I have completed my performance, unless I am specifically excused by the stage manager; curtain calls are a part of the show.

7. I shall not let the comments of friends, relatives or critics change any phase of my work without proper consultation; I shall not change lines, business, lights, properties, settings or costumes or any phase of the production without consultation with and permission of my director or producer or their agents, and I shall inform all people concerned.

8. I shall forego the gratification of my ego for the demands of the play.

9. I shall remember my business is to create illusion; therefore, I shall not break the illusion by appearing in costume and makeup off-stage or outside the theatre.

10. I shall accept my director’s and producer’s advice and counsel in the spirit in which it is given, for they can see the production as a whole and my work from the front.

11. I shall never “put on an act” while viewing other artists’ work as a member of an audience, nor shall I make caustic criticism from jealousy or for the sake of being smart.

12. I shall respect the play and the playwright and, remembering that “a work of art is not a work of art until it is finished,” I shall not condemn a play while it is in rehearsal.

13. I shall not spread rumor or gossip which is malicious and tends to reflect discredit on my show, the theatre, or any personnel connected with them-either to people inside or outside the group.

14. Since I respect the theatre in which I work, I shall do my best to keep it looking clean, orderly and attractive regardless of whether I am specifically assigned to such work or not.

15. I shall handle stage properties and costumes with care for I know they are part of the tools of my trade and are a vital part of the physical production.

16. I shall follow rules of courtesy, deportment and common decency applicable in all walks of life (and especially in a business in close contact with the public) when I am in the theatre, and I shall observe the rules and regulations of any specific theatre where I work.

17. I shall never lose my enthusiasm for theatre because of disappointments.

In addition, the document continued:

“I understand that membership in the Circle Theatre entitles me to the privilege of working, when I am so assigned, in any of the phases of a production, including: props, lights, sound, construction, house management, box office, publicity and stage managing-as well as acting. I realize it is possible I may not be cast in a part for many months, but I will not allow this to dampen my enthusiasm or desire to work, since I realize without my willingness to do all other phases of theatre work, there would be no theatre for me to act in.”


While some of these "rules" may seem really outdated (and some I don't totally agree with), I do admire the fact that people were held to a high standard of work and behavior. It's too easy to say "that's someone else's job" or "It won't matter if I don't do that." In reality, I believe an audience can tell when you aren't giving 100% of yourself to a production.

So, what do you think? Are these rules asking too much? Are they outdated? Or should more theatre companies have things like this around? 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interview with John Fionte

I was blessed enough to get to do an interview with the director of Chicago, which is opening at the Cumberland County Playhouse on July 21st. John Fionte is a very busy man right now, directing Chicago, acting in Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, and directing Little Shop of Horrors. I'm almost positive he's doing ten million other things at the Playhouse as well, but I don't know exactly what those things are. However, rest assured that I was lucky that John had the time to answer these questions for me. :)

*For the rest of this post, anything in BOLD is John Fionte. Anything in regular script is me.


Cara, thanks so much for your energy, enthusiasm and support of "Chicago!" And thanks for your blog, in general... It's always refreshing to discover someone who devotes so much energy to something purely out of love for the art form. And that helps jaded old pros like me remember that we can actually affect others with our work! :)

1. So far, how has the community been reacting to the news that Chicago is coming to the Playhouse?

The buzz that I've heard has been almost overwhelmingly positive... from virtually all demographics. There seems to be a great deal of excitement about the show. If I were to guess why, the reason's probably two-fold: one, the title has HUGE cachet, especially since the movie was released in 2002 (and the show's been running forever in NYC); and two, it's new to our audience, and has an aura of excitement (dare I say edginess?) about it. While I won't pretend that every single person I've spoken to is enthusiastic about it - and it's certainly NOT for everyone (it's edgy, it's sexy, and it has mature themes, situations and language) - anticipation seems very high.

2. I've never seen Chicago (other than the movie) before. What types of things have you changed from the Broadway version?

Well, I've made far fewer changes to the play than the movie did! Actually, I think I've been pretty faithful to the spirit of the original production (which I was fortunate enough to see, WAY back in the day). As a director, I always try to focus on the story that's being told... and I hope that I've made the plot and the characters' journeys central to the production. As much as I enjoyed the film, I felt that it sometimes sacrificed story for the sake of spectacle. In the Playhouse production, I want to give equal weight to both of those elements.

3. Can you give me any info on the set design? I'm anxious to see what ideas you've come up with.

I'll see if I can break away from rehearsal in the next couple of days and snap some photos of the set as it's being finished up. In the meantime, I'll hit some of the main points of the design (and the design process). In some ways, the Chicago set is the exact opposite of my design for A Little Night Music. That set was very specific in terms of its location (Sweden) and its time period (the creative team agreed on 1908), so the backdrop was based on a photograph of an actual birch forest in Sweden, the lines of the set were unmistakably Art Nouveau, and the paint style was based on art styles appropriate to the period, like impressionism. Additionally, the set was in almost constant motion, with set changes being as carefully choreographed as dance numbers, in order to provide a counterpoint to the show's many scenes of Bergman-esque stillness,

My set for Chicago, on the the other hand, is deliberately neutral in its lines and is for the most part, static. There aren't a lot of "set changes," and different locations are suggested by lights, or the addition of simple pieces of furniture, or sometimes just by the way the actors are placed on the stage. The script often specifies the location of a scene as "limbo," so I didn't want to get too literal. Chicago's songs and scenes are in constant motion, so I felt a stationary setting would better suit that visual style.

That being said, I don't want to imply that the set ISN'T impressive! It's huge, has lots of levels, lots of lights... and a deep, richly textured paint treatment (black pearl with gold accents). It's slick, stylish and glitzy... just like the show itself.

4. Costumes. What can you give me about costumes? The time period is very distinct. Please tell me there are a lot of sequins and sparkle.

I can certainly promise lots of sparkle, though I can't promise that it all comes from sequins! Neither the original Broadway production nor its subsequent revivals were particularly bound by period details... I'd say they were more period-influenced than period-specific. That's the case with the Playhouse production, as well. There are lots of elements of the huge costume plot that are very specifically 1920s, but the overall look of the show is more contemporary. And that's a deliberate, thematic choice. As you know, the 1926 play Chicago (on which the musical was based) was inspired by actual people and events. When the musical premiered in 1975, its representation of these people, their behavior, and their reception by the public must have seemed quaint, distant and unusual to the audiences of the 70s. Flash forward to 2011, and those same behaviors (the elevation of criminals to celebrity status, the media reveling in and gleefully detailing "bad behavior") seem neither foreign nor archaic. So our design plot is a bit more neutral, in a (hopefully) subtle attempt to make the story more resonant with contemporary audiences.

5. It's less than two weeks until opening night. What types of things are you working on with the show right now? With sets? In rehearsals? In other areas?

The set is pretty much entirely built and the final paint details should be finished by the end of this week. Rebel and Renee have been sewing their fingers to the bone and their costumes are right on schedule. The show has now been completely choreographed (the primary focus of the past 7 - 10 days), and now my attention will once again turn to the book scenes and the large task of working all of the production's discrete elements into a cohesive whole. My main goal in the coming week will be to get the show functioning like a well-oiled machine, so that when the technical elements are added in the final week, they won't create any distraction or disruption at all. :)

6. Anything else you want to share with us about the show?

Chicago is a great show. It has remained wildly popular for nearly forty years and has been seen by millions of people. And that's not counting the millions more who have only seen the movie. I'm thrilled by the opportunity to help bring it to life on the Playhouse stage. And I'm very grateful for the chance to talk about it with you and share my enthusiasm with your readers.

Thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions. You may want to check out the official blog for the Cumberland County Playhouse. It's fairly new, but I have a feeling will have some great information on it as time goes by.

Chicago is playing at the Cumberland County Playhouse from July 21th thru October 7th. You can purchase tickets online by clicking HERE, or by calling the Playhouse at 931-484-5000.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Miss American Idiot

I wasn’t aware that it was possible to miss a Broadway show as much as I miss American Idiot. It’s strange really, that I would miss it this much. The cast recording gets played in my house (or on my mp3 player) almost every day. And if I go more than a couple of days without hearing it, I feel like something isn’t right in my world. You can call me crazy. I’ll understand. But for me, it’s true. The only person that I know in real life that has as much (or more) of an attachment to the show is my friend that I saw it with every time that I saw it.
I miss the craziness. I miss the choreography that I could never quite figure out. I miss the car hanging from the ceiling. I miss the “Love Happened Here” fliers. I miss the crazy antics from Michael Esper and Gerard Canonico on the couch. I miss the “I Hella <3 Oakland” shirt that Heather wears. I miss the way my heart aches when Johnny sings “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” because I know what it’s like to feel all alone in life, even surrounded by a thousand people. I miss the lump in my throat when Tunny sings “the Jesus of Suburbia is a lie” during “Are We the Waiting” because you can tell how much it hurts when reality has sunk in, and that his best friend isn’t his savior.

When I was in New York in May it marked my first trip in over a year that didn’t involve a trip to the St. James. I miss the St. James. I miss that I knew exactly where the bathrooms were. I miss that I knew where BOTH stage doors were. I miss being able to write my name on the red walls in silver sharpie. I miss knowing that there is this fantastic little deli right now the street in one direction, and a great pizza place down the street in the other direction.

It’s crazy because I’ve loved other Broadway shows. I love theatre or I would have this blog. There is (almost) not a show that I wouldn’t see. My apartment is decorated in framed Broadway posters and framed pictures of New York. But there is just something that was so special to me about American Idiot. I’ve blogged about it before, so I won’t get into it again. But American Idiot brought a sense of comfort and familiarity to me. And it brought me a little rag-tag group of online friends who love the show as much as me. Maybe not for the same reasons, but love it just the same.

Part of me is afraid as well. I’m afraid I’ll forget the way it looked and the things that happened on stage. I’m afraid I’ll forget at what point the first explosion happens during “Novacaine” or when the girls run out on stage for the first time during the opening number. Thankfully, I’ll be able to see it a few more times while it’s on tour. But after that…. I don’t know. My mind is human, and filled with forgetfulness. I know that a lot of people don’t think filming Broadway productions is a good thing.
But this is one of those times that I wish it had been done.

The other night I sent out a tweet to several other “Idiots” and asked them what they missed most about the show. I got a few replies back and they were kind enough to let me post them here.

@lolas_ramblings : I miss my heart stopping @ the opening
@ChanManTatumLuv : the feeling u get when espy cries
@andscreaming : I miss knowing I get 2 see them 1 more time 4 GR (for those of you not familiar
with the show, GR is twitter-speak for the encore performance of “Good Riddance: Time of Your Life” done at the curtain of every performance)
@lolas_ramblings: That last cello note the uncontrollable sobbing the Esperness of it all  (I agree about that last cello note at the end of “Whatsername.” I sometimes still want to cry when I hear it on the cast recording.)
@whatsername43 : I miss the thrill and Letterbomb and JGJ (Also twitter-speak. This time the shortened version of original Johnny/Jesus of Subrbia, John Gallagher, Jr.)
@Rhinoriddler : I miss the feeling of fearlessness like what Jack felt on Titanic. Like we’re doomed but it’s ok.

What do you miss about American Idiot? Do you have a show that you miss? What do you miss about that show?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Duck Hunter Shoots Angel

Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, written by Mitch Albom (yes, the same one that wrote Tuesdays With Morrie), is currently playing at Cumberland County Playhouse. A touching story, disguised as a comedy, Duck Hunter was nothing I expected it to be. I expected a crazy ridiculous comedy. I came away with a story that made my heart happy and sad all at the same time. I should have known. After all, the person who wrote Tuesdays With Morrie couldn’t have written anything less than a story that makes you want to get out a box of tissues, right?
Sandy, a former “legitimate” reporter, is now working for a tabloid paper called The Weekly World and Globe. Which is published bi-weekly. Living in New York City, he admits that he works for a paycheck and writes “crap.” His boss, Lester, is young, rich and amazingly pushy. When a tip comes to their office that a man in Alabama says he thinks he’s shot an angle, Lester sends Sandy, and photographer Lenny on their way in spite of Sandy’s protests that the South makes him break out.

Sandy and his photographer Lenny, head to Alabama in hopes of finding (or making up) a story for their paper. What Sandy finds instead is his past, some life lessons, and family he didn’t know existed. Along the way you meet duck hunting brothers Duane and Duwell, played with comedic hilarity by Bobby Taylor and Jason Ross. Both brothers are convinced they’ve shot and killed an angel. You meet Kansas, a young girl who works in a convenience store and has plans to go to college. You meet, in a round about way, the girl from Sandy’s past that manages to haunt his current thoughts.

Sandy is played by Daniel Black and Lenny by Michael Ruff. Both do a great job of showing how easy it is to make judgments based on more than skin color. I, myself, have been on the receiving end of snap judgments based on the way I talk or where I’m from. Ruff’s Lenny gives a great lesson to Sandy when he reminds him that even though Sandy may not make judgments based on skin color, he still divides people into groups and puts himself in a “better than” category.

Throughout the show you get good laughs. In fact, until the last ten minutes or so, I really thought that’s what the show was: a great comedy. But that last little bit had me leaving the theatre saying, “Wow. There was a moral to this story,” and feeling a little heart-broken and hopeful at the same time. I like a show that can make me feel so many things in such a short amount of time. My advice, see this show. Younger children might not get or appreciate it (there is some adult humor). But teens and adults will get a big laugh and a life lesson all wrapped into one. The show plays through July 14th.
Go check it out if you have the chance.

Also, I must note that this same play won about a million BroadwayWorld.com Nashville awards last year. Best set design (professional play), best actor (professional play), best lighting design (professional play), best director (professional play) and best professional play. Personally, it deserved them all.