Sunday, September 18, 2011


Friday night was opening night for Dreamgirls at Cumberland County Playhouse. The story of the rise and fall of a 60’s era girl group, it’s another “big” production for CCP this year. I made my way down at the last minute, without a ticket, hoping that I could get in. I was able to. And in fact, I ended up sitting in the first row. A little hard on the neck at times, but a good view, nonetheless.

The original Broadway production opened in 1981 and won 6 Tony Awards in 1982. The 2006 movie starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson won 2 Oscars. Obviously, due to my age, I never saw the Broadway production. And due to my location, I had never seen a staged production of the show at all. But I enjoyed the movie and was looking forward to seeing what the Playhouse could do with such a famous show.

Much of the set are the same pieces as used in Chicago, with enough changes to make it work, including see through walls that allowed the audience to feel the difference between backstage and onstage settings for the actors. Costuming was amazing. Since the show spans a couple of decades, it was interesting to see the change in the costuming from the start of the show to the end. One thing that was very easy to notice (thanks to my front row seat) was the plethora of AMAZING shoes. Oh the glitter.

During the show the setting was often projected in words on the back of the stage. At first it was a little strange to me. It almost didn’t feel right. But the further along the show went, the more thankful I was for it since the show moves at an incredibly fast rate and covers two decades in the span of a few hours.

The Dreamettes are three girls looking for fame by joining a talent contest at the Apollo in New York. Instead of winning the talent contest, Effie, Lorrelle and Deena end up being “discovered” by questionable manager Curtis Taylor Jr who starts then singing back up for the famous James (Jimmy) Thunder Early. Curtis immediately woos Effie sensing that she is the key to getting the group to sign on with him and Lorrelle winds up in a relationship with the very married and very…crazy Jimmy Early.

From the start of the show, Effie, played by Lar’Juanete William (previously seen at CCP as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray) is nearly impossible to like. She’s rude, self-centered, and does almost nothing other than complain. It made it hard to make a connection with the character (though I’m not sure if that was the way the show was written or the way Ms. William’s chose to portray Effie). In fact, the show stopping number “And I Am Telling You” that is done right before intermission…well, it didn’t really stop the show for me. Effie has just been broken up with by her boyfriend/manager and kicked out of the group she helped to start…yet I didn’t feel much for her, other than thinking that she kind of brought it on herself.

However, Ms. Williams totally bought the character of Effie back around in the second act. Her shining moment was “I Am Changing.” It marked the first point in the show that I actually cared about Effie and wanted to see Effie succeed.

Curtis Taylor Jr was played by Keith McCoy. His whole demeanor was perfect for the role. He was rough, mean at times, and totally driven. Curtis Taylor Jr would do whatever it took to see “his” group succeed, no matter the cost to the people around him or any other innocent bystanders.

Deena, played by LaKeta Booker (who was also in Hairspray at CCP as Little Inez). Deena does what she’s told, and while she gets frustrated with Effie before the group split, you can tell that she doesn’t do anything simply to be mean. A fact made apparent in the second act when Curtis releases a song by the Dreams that Effie has recorded as a solo artist. Deena is appalled and tells both Curtis, and eventually Effie that.

There was an amazing supporting cast, as always. It was a large show, having almost 30 cast members. The shining group numbers of the show were “Steppin’ To the Bad Side” in act one and “One Night Only Disco” in the second act. My ensemble member of the show (I always seem to have one that catches my attention) was Donald Frison. He played several roles in the show and is an amazing dancer.

The star of the entire show, however, was Charles Lattimore. Lattimore played the role of Jimmy Early and was hilarious from start to finish. You could feel the audience getting engaged in Jimmy and investing themselves in the show anytime he was on stage.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie, expect a different feel. But you can also expect the staples of the Cumberland County Playhouse of great group numbers, outstanding actors and all the professionalism of a New York stage. Dreamgirls is only playing through October 14th, and on a very limited schedule, so be sure to catch it soon!

Also, for your enjoyment, a video trailer from CCP's YouTube site!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This Should Be On Every Theatre's Website

I've written about Etiquette before. Yet continually I have to deal with people who don't seem to understand the basics of the whole concept. Nothing proves this more than the website of The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. They have a whole page dedicated to etiquette. I'm reposting here. It's so comprehensive and GOOD that I think every theatre should have this on the website. Just a side note: I think it's really sad that ANY theatre should have to have this on the website.

1. Arrive early. If you are late, you may be held out or reseated until an appropriate time for you to get to your assigned seat. People who arrive late disturb the performers on stage and audience members. It is best to arrive about 30 minutes early so that you have time to purchase concessions, find your seat, and read the program before the show starts.

2. Take care of personal needs (drinks of water or restroom) because you should not leave your seat until the intermission or until the performance ends.

3. Please sit in the seat you are assigned so you do not cause confusion for other audience members.

4. Please silence or turn off all electronic devices, including cell phones, beepers, and watch alarms. You’ll be embarrassed if it goes off in the middle of a tense moment of the show and it will break the mood for everyone. We encourage you to share your experience at the Fox via social media, but please refrain from doing so or texting during performances; the glow from your device is distracting.

5. Most shows do not allow photography of any kind. Flash photography inside the theatre is never allowed as it is a distraction to those around you and a danger to the performers.

6. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.

7. The sound system for each show is provided by the touring production. Unfortunately, many variables exist that may occasionally hinder sound quality. Please let an usher know if you are having trouble hearing. Adjustments may be able to be made or an assisted listening device can be provided.

8. Dear Lovebirds, when you lean your heads together, you block the view of the people behind you. Please consider the people that will be seated behind you when choosing whether or not to wear a hat or what hair style you choose.

9. Please refrain from talking, humming, or singing along with the show, except when encouraged to do so by the artist or show.

10. Please wait for an appropriate moment to dig something out of your pocket or bag.

11. Go easy with the perfume and cologne, many people are highly allergic.

12. If you need assistance during the show, please go to your nearest volunteer usher. If additional assistance is needed the usher will get the appropriate person to further help you.

13. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky, but leaving while the show is in progress or before the actors have taken their final bows is discourteous. Wait until it is over and then exit with the rest of the audience.

14. Outside food and beverage is not allowed in the Fox Theatre. Special exceptions will be made on a case by case basis.

15. Just be courteous and everyone will enjoy the show.

Children and Live Theatre

Attending a live theatre performance can be a magical and memorable experience for even young children. Done well, you will be planting the seeds of appreciation in a young patron for a love of live theatre. Done poorly, you can create an awful experience for your child and the people seated around you.

First, take time to select the proper show for your child to see. It would be unfair to ask your child to behave their best if you have selected a show that would bore them or that they do not understand. By order of the Fire Marshall, every child who attends, regardless of age, must have their own ticket. In some cases it might be cheaper to hire a babysitter and make it a date night instead. Infants should always be left at home, as there's no distraction quite like a crying baby.

Here are some general guidelines that should be mentioned prior to attending a live performance to prepare your child to present the proper behavior everyone will be expecting from him or her:

•They will be expected to be quiet, sit still in their own chair, and not disturb others around them by talking or fidgeting.
•They will need to keep their feet on the floor, not on the seats around them. They should not kick the chair in front of them or stand during the performance.   
•They should not leave the theatre except during intermission and only with their parent(s) or guardian.
•They should use the restroom before the performance or during intermission and only with their parent(s) or guardian.
•They may applaud when appropriate.

Also mention to your children that the theatre will be dark at times and sudden bursts of sounds may happen.

If your child becomes restless, frightened, or very loud, please take them to the lobby. Please remember that our lobby is not sound proof and loud noise will travel into the theatre. You may always ask an usher to reseat you towards the back of the theatre/balcony.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Find a Show

So is one of my favorite sites dedicated to theatre. For a while they have had a tool on the site that you could put in what is important to you in a show and it would give you suggestions on what you might like to see. I never used "Pick-a-Show", other than the first time I tried it out because I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to see when I head to New York.

But, BroadwayWorld made an announcement yesterday that I think is pretty amazing. They are expanding the tool to include regional theatre at well! I actually went in and put in my zip code and it pulled up a whole list of shows close to me. Of course, the closest is Cumberland County Playhouse and all of their current shows are listed right at the top (because, from what I can tell, they put them in distance order).

According to the website, it is going to be expanded over time in order to include all of the regions that BroadwayWorld covers. So go in and give it a spin to see if your region is included!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Rest of the 2011 Season at Cumberland County Playhouse

The latest video promotion for the rest of the year at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I'm excited about all of these shows. And I'll admit it, in the 18 seasons that it's been playing at the Cumberland County Playhouse, I've never seen Smoke on the Mountain. I have a feeling this may be the year that I remedy that issue.

As always, tickets can be purchased online HERE or by calling 931-484-5000. You can find CCP's YouTube page, follow them on Facebook, or on Twitter. You can also find their blog HERE.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Over Your Shoulder

I took my first trip to New York City when I was 17 years old. There were sixty-nine of us from a small town in the South that raised enough money to go on our Senior trip. Stops in Washington D.C., Hershey, Pennsylvania, and New York City were on the agenda. Most of us had never traveled much. Some of my classmates had never left our state.

Out of all the things we did, my single most memorable moment of the stop in New York was when we were leaving the city for the final time. It was late at night. As we drove out of New York my high school principal stood up and turned around and said, “Look over your shoulder. This may be the last view you ever have of New York.” I turned around. The unmistakable lights of the city light up the sky. In the distance I saw the World Trade Center buildings. The iconic markers in the skyline of New York. I sighed.

It turns out my principal was right. Many of my classmates would never and will never return to New York. I did. But only after the skyline, and the world, had been changed forever. In many ways the New York I visited in 1999 is nothing like the New York that I know now. It’s strange to me sometimes. When I think of 9/11 my first memory isn’t of the newscasts that played for weeks and months after the attacks. Of the buildings and the smoke and the horror. My first memory is of what I saw when I looked over my shoulder and out that bus window that final time.

The closer and closer that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 has gotten, the more and more I tried to avoid thinking about it. But the truth is that we can’t avoid it. Ten years ago the world changed forever. American changed forever. I changed forever. I didn’t need to know anyone in New York. I didn’t need to live there. I didn’t need to be a frequent visitor. It didn’t stop the unmistakable change in my life.

As horrible as those hours, days and weeks following the attacks were, I saw something that I don’t think many generations have seen. I saw Americans coming together and supporting each other. It didn’t matter what race they were or what nationality. Gender, political affiliation, social status….it all took a backseat to the fact that we needed each other.

I was twenty years old. Not a child. But by no means an actual adult. In that time of life when you are trying to figure out who you are and what you want out of life was a time I also learned that the world can be cruel, and people you’ve never met can be kind. I didn’t need to know anyone who lived there. That day left a mark on my life.

Since that time so many other things have changed in the world. I think we often forget, or try to block out the feelings of companionship and connection that we felt with complete strangers right after the attacks. Remember that. Remember that love you felt for complete strangers. Remember that anger you felt for the horrible things that were happening. Remember it. I know I do.

So let today be a day that we remember these things. Let today be a day that we are reminded of what we lost as a nation. Even if you (or I) didn’t know a single person who perished that September day,
remember the innocence we lost.

But even through all those memories, and all of my memories of my many trips to New York, one of the strongest will always be that last view. That over the shoulder, out the bus window view that would be my last view of the Twin Towers, and one of my most powerful memories of New York.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hopeful Endings

This week has been incredibly stressful for me. For numerous reasons that I won't get into. I have been continually reminding myself of how blessed I am and how much worse off that I could be. But sometimes there's nothing like a Broadway tune to bring you that sense of hope.

Here are some of my favorite songs that bring hope, even in the sadness.

Light- from Next to Normal

Seasons of Love- Rent

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) - American Idiot

Song of Purple Summer (full) - Spring Awakening

Finale - In the Heights

Whatsername - American Idiot

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Music Before the Show

Sometimes it's easy to fall in love with a cast recording of a show. From start to finish you're riveted by the lyrics, the music, and the story that it tells. Sometimes you don't even have to see the show first. I fell in love with the Wicked cast recording years before I actually saw the show. Same thing for the RENT cast recording. Ditto for Avenue Q and Spring Awakening.

For some of these cast recordings, it doesn't seem like you need to see the show to love and understand the music. Each of these show have become favorites of mine over the years. Each of them I knew the music before I knew the show.

But sometimes I find it hard to listen to a cast recording before I've seen a show. For instance, I downloaded the cast recording from In the Heights months before I saw the show. While the music was catchy, I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it was because my Spanish stops at the local restaurant menu, giving me difficulty understanding all of the lyrics. Maybe it's just because I couldn't get an idea for the story in my head. I'm not sure. But after seeing the show and LOVING it, the cast recording has become one of my favorites. Songs from the show randomly pop in my head (in fact, I woke up with "Blackout" stuck in my head this morning), making me smile.

I had a similar experience with Next to Normal. I had a vacation planed to New York, and pre-purchased tickets to see the show. I also purchased the cast recording. I listened to it a couple of times, but the same thing happened to me that happened with In the Heights. I just couldn't get into it. With Next to Normal, I truly believe that it was seeing the songs in context that helped me. Next to Normal is also a favorite cast recording of mine.

I believe that some of the reason I have different experiences with cast recordings before shows is because of the ways in which the shows were written. Not that any way is bad. But I think some shows have so much of their story in the music that you can imagine the show through the songs. Other shows tell a great deal of their story through the music, but parts of it are not in the songs, making it harder to "see" the story before you actually see the show.

It makes for an interesting study of new cast recordings though. Being so far from New York makes it hard to see shows before the cast recording comes out. So many times I download a cast recording first, and see the show later. There are times I have to remind myself that the show may still be fantastic, even if I have a hard time with the music.

Have you ever listened to a cast recording before a show and been unable to get into the music or get a good feel for the show? Do any of you actually listen to a cast recording before seeing a show?