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It is no surprise that Broadway musicals have embraced the world of multimedia. In my review of Ghost:The Musical, I even prefaced how as appealing as it is, it sometimes is a detriment to the overall production. The installment of more mediums on stage has increased to a point where sometimes the actor and music play second fiddle to the videos, music tracks and special effects that take to the stage. They almost become a character themselves. It begs the question, how were musicals produced before the digital age? Cinderella, at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, answers this question, and successfully I might add.
Entering the lobby of the Straz Center, on Tuesday night, felt as if I was going to be attending a Grand Ball myself. Numerous families had brought their young girls whom were dressed up like princesses about to attend a coronation. Therefore, it was a wonderful sight as fewer and fewer productions, that are completely family friendly, are being produced.
Carol Marsoni Hall was fired up with opening night energy which allowed me to reminisce about my own time on stage. The aura was intoxicating and the addition of the youthfulness, in the theatre, just made it more so. But of course, I digress.
As I took my seat I could see on stage what looked like a forest with several trees and greenery painted on set. It greeted the audience with a nice surprise. The set was not, in any way shape or form, trying to pass itself off as reality. While it was done professionally, it foreshadowed a different place and time where the suspension of belief could easily be ensued. As the show began it did just that. Transported us to a different land where magic could exist and the most fantastical dreams could come to life.
CINDERELLA THE STORY
The tale is the same. Cinderella, having been orphaned by her father after he died, is a slave to her surviving step-mother. With her biological children, she continues to keep Ella (the name she goes by at the start of the show) busy while continually find ways to ridicule her. At the castle, Prince Topher has just completed his schooling and has come of age to be crowned king.
In order to marry him off, Sebastian, his trusted advisor, organizes a ball. It gave the prince an opportunity to meet all of the eligible ladies of the kingdom. Of course Cinderella’s step-mother will have no part in allowing her to attend. With the help of Ella’s Fairy God Mother, Marie, she is able to appear at the ball anonymously. The problem is, the magic used for her dress and carriage will only last until midnight, at which time her dress will return to her rags, the carriage will return to being a pumpkin and her footman will return to the forest as a raccoon and fox. The Prince and Ella meet, and before she can even give her name, midnight arrives and she rushes into the night. The Prince, now completely obsessed with finding Ella, spends days and nights looking for her.
There are some slight detours from the original story and some modern comedic language added. The outcome is the same and some nice additions are made that include some wonderful lessons for the youngsters and adults as well.
To get to the point, I absolutely loved this production. It especially resonated with me because the production was almost completely, for lack of a better term, analog. There was no digital media. There were no videos, and nothing seemed to move automatically. Everything was done via human locomotion. From the Cinderella’s rags turning into her fabulous gown, to Marie (the fairy godmother) flying. It was completely, done via “old school” theatre, using ropes & pulleys, under-dressing, and wheels with the help of the stage crew and the actors.
Paige Faure’s portrayal of the naïve, kind and generous Cinderella, was as sincere of a performance I have ever witnessed. Her incredible singing carried her emotion through the house where the audience could do nothing but root for her to the very end.
With a different naiveté came Prince Topher, played by Andy Jones. His voice not only beautifully melded with Paige, but it also showed the maturity of harmonizing with the rest of the ensemble. While this show was completely family oriented, there was no doubting the attraction between the two leads. I couldn’t help but being held with anticipation awaiting for the two to finally find each other.
This was a full ensemble piece and what was so intriguing was every member of the ensemble allowed for each of the characters to stand out. This includes the incredible resonating voice of Adrian Baidoo portraying a page with some short solos that were very memorable. Every actor was fully committed to their characters where it seemed like character and actor became one in the same.
The dance numbers were executed to perfection with no one single dancer pulling focus from the ensemble as a whole. Every member of the dance ensemble appeared to be classically trained which made every movement jaw dropping and attracted the focus of every eye in the house.
Blake Hammond’s Sebastian was ruthless but fun. Crazy Marie/the Fairy Godmother, played by Kecia Lewis, had a voice that carried through the audience. It brought us back to our childhood when we actually believed in magic. Step mother, Beth Glover was hilarious as was her daughter Charlotte, Aymee Garcia . The comedic choices created a duplicity for the audience to choose to like them instead of just wishing them to be gone.
I can go on and on about this performance and I have nothing bad to say. The only small, tiny, petty thing I could point out, was a technical issue. The sound in the first number “Me, Who am I?” which was a solo with ensemble harmonies. It was very difficult to hear the solo lyrics. However, the balance between soloist and ensemble was corrected for the following numbers. As a former performer, designer and director, I would chalk that up to opening night adjustments.
Cinderella at the Straz Center is a production that is a must see for every one of all ages. I highly recommend attending a production before it leaves the area.
Cinderella plays at the Straz Center, through Sunday October 26th, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm, and Sunday at 2 and 7pm.
Special effects seem to be at a the crux of human entertainment these days, doesn’t it? Every episode of almost every studio made episodic drama, situation comedy and major motion picture is loaded with some flavor of special effects. Even shows like, “Big Bang Theory” or “How I Met Your Mother” have increased their effects budget with effects of dream sequences, stunts or layered images to help draw in the audience.
Pop-culture does not seem to have room for TV shows, movies or even plays that have to completely depend on the integrity and talent of the performers.
This was evident as I walked into the Carol Marsoni Hall of the Straz Center for the opening night performance of STOMP last night.
The house was littered with empty seats. The mezzanine and balcony were completely empty.
All I can say is to the lovers of music and theatre that decided to skip out on this performance, it is your loss. The simplistic cohesiveness of this ensemble show is something that does not come around all that often.
STOMP is a percussive music, comedy and movement performance that is matched by nothing I have ever seen. This group of seven performers make music without the use of musical instruments as we would define them. They basically use junk you may find in a dumpster in New York City. Garbage can lids, plastic tubs, match boxes, zippo lighters, are just a few of the items these talented performers use to make a beat come alive in a way that I was not only riveted, but I couldn’t help but want to move my feet with the beat.
The use of the artifacts along with their feet and the movement was visually stimulating as well. Within the first few numbers, all I could think of, was this group is making music with everything except the kitchen sink, and of course in the very next number four of the performers came out with kitchen sinks strapped to their torsos. Water in the sinks plus, cups and utensils seemed to come alive as the ensemble mixed their sounds together in one cohesive unit.
There is no special effects, no extra special lighting, no words, no special costumes just the performers and their props. Simple entertainment at it’s finest and extremely riveting.
Percussion was not the only thing used for entertainment. There was many parts of each number where comedy was used to infiltrate the performance with the laughter of the audience. Comedy alone is not easy, but comedy without one audible word for the entire show is extremely difficult and this group pulled it off with precision and ease.
This was one of the most entertaining ninety minutes I have had in a long time. What made it even more fun was the ensemble incorporated the audience within the show. Patterns of clapping, foot stomping, and finger snapping made for an interactive experience that just compounded on the immense fun this show had to offer.
In simple terms, STOMP was outstanding and I highly recommend everyone take the opportunity to go see it.
STOMP is playing at the Straz Center of the Performing Arts April 30 – May 3. Please visit the Straz Center website for more information.
Ghost The Musical Tampa FL – A Goof Review
The supernatural seems to be all the rage nowadays. The silver and big screens are filled with zombies, vampires, demons, spirits, you name it. Prior to the latest trends, the 1990 movie Ghost starring the late Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore was a blockbuster hit. Not only was it the top-grossing movie of 1990 but it took home Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Whoopi Goldberg).
The theatre trend started with musicals becoming movies like Mama Mia and Rent, but lately, the trend has moved in the opposite direction to include Ghost. Can movies be turned into musicals and still retain the original vision of the screenwriter?
As I anxiously awaited the opening number in the orchestra section (main floor) of the Straz Center for Performing Arts‘ Carol Marsoni Hall, I pondered this in my head. I happened to notice in the program that Brian Joel Rubin wrote the script for the musical as well as the movie which increased my optimism and my excitement.
Now, as I have previously written in prior reviews, I love the theatre and especially musicals. I have experience on stage as a performer and behind the scenes as a designer and director, which is why my reviews tend to get a little in-depth. This one will be no different.
Ghost’s plot centers around Molly(Katie Postonik), who is in danger after her lover Sam Wheat(Steven Grant Douglas) is murdered. Sam, now a ghost, using a reluctant psychic, Oda Mae Brown(Carla R. Stewart) tries to save her.
This musical was a multimedia extravaganza, with video being used as an introduction and as background, and foreground for a good amount of the duration of the show. For example, video of stock tickers, traffic and crowded sidewalks as a background for a dance number to symbolize the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Most of the time, the ocular stimulus was way too much. It pulled from the actors’ performances as well as the dancers. There was so much going on that my eyes didn’t know where to focus. I literally had to decide what of the action going on-stage was supposed to be the central focal point.
My eyes didn’t feel that way all the time. The scenes underground with the Subway Ghost(Brandon Curry) were incredibly vivid and they worked really well. Unfortunately, most of the other moments where the talented dancers of the ensemble were visually drowning in the fast-moving video that played around them. There was a point that any audience member, focusing stage right, would miss some amazing movements going on stage left, due to the multimedia being shot in the foreground.
When I am asked to review shows at the Straz, it usually opening night in order to turn around the article so it can be used for marketing purposes. In my experiences as an actor and director, sometimes tweaks are taken care during opening night. There are the different sound, lighting, and technical obstacles that appear when the house is full of warm bodies which then lend to acting struggles as well.
With that being said, I was disappointed with the performances of both Katie Postotnik(Molly) and Steven Grant Douglas(Sam). Not only were their singing voices falling flat more times than not, but the chemistry and the heat needed between them was just slightly more than a flicker. There were small moments here and there, but they were few and far between.
The singing was flat overall without prejudice of the performer, which lead me to believe that maybe the monitors that feed the music on stage may not have been fully functional. If the performer does not hear the same pitches as the audience there will be perceptual differences which could sound like their singing is falling flat or sharp.
Robby Haltiwanger, who portrayed Carl Bruner, had more chemistry with Molly in the few scenes they shared than the entirety of scenes with Sam. There was a fleeting moment between them, but it had enough heat that it seemed to linger on stage for the rest of the show. Regardless, of the fact that he too fell flat during most of his singing numbers, his acting skills seemed far superior to those of Molly and Sam.
The best performances came from Carla Stewart(Oda Mae) and those performers playing her sisters, Lydia Warr(Louise) and Evette Marie White(Clara). Their pitches were spot on, and they seemed to have more fun on stage than a lot of the other performers. The characters of Oda Mae and her sisters are what I would consider the comic relief to what should have been a very emotional story. They brought much-needed hilarity at a point where the rest of the show was failing. My opinion must have shared with a number of the other audience members because it was only when these talented women came out for the curtain call that the ovation became standing.
One aspect that did disappoint me was that Carla tried to mimic Whoopi Goldberg’s performance from the movie. Of course, this could have been a directorial choice. It is evident that Carla is a phenomenally competent actor whom given the creativity might have made different choices that would have played to her strengths.
When a new musical is first presented on Broadway and then sent on tour, it usually takes five years for the rights to the show become available. During those five years there are minimal changes that a director can make from the original Broadway version, so a lot of the issues I mentioned may have fallen into that category.
In summary, while there were some great moments, the multimedia, inferior acting and pitchy voices tended to distract from what was an award-winning script.
Ghost is playing at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, April 27th. For more info please see the Straz Center website.
It seems that I cannot turn on a radio, browse the internet or watch the news without hearing a story about a celebrity scandal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a movie star, pop star, hotel heiress or a political figure, for some reason when a person gains that much fame, they feel invincible.
It seems like these situations have been occurring forever, doesn’t it?
Jersey Boys, at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, told the history of the famous Four Seasons pop group and all of the so-called “situations” they were in. Frankie Valli, Nick DeVito and the founder, Tommy DeVito. were four stereotypical New Jersey kids that wanted a way out. As juveniles and young adults Tommy and Nick were in and out of trouble with the law, until Tommy decided to start a group that took different
The play brilliantly portrays the history of The Four Seasons in four parts, with each part
narrated by a different member of the band and supposedly reflecting that band member’s perspective on the band’s history. Most of the big hits of the group are sung either in episodic situations or portraying the band on stage either in concert or on television.
A huge surprise to me, was when I opened the program and found the roll of Frankie Valli is portrayed by Hayden Milanes. Hayden and I performed together in a couple of different shows in another life. Without any bias, Hayden’s performance was nothing short of amazing. The song “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, made Frankie Valli’s extraordinary range famous and Hayden seemed to recreate it with ease. Personally, I think the amazing richness in his vocal quality followed with his research of the character honored Mr. Valli to the extreme.
What was even more amazing is Hayden’s talent was only matched by the other members of the ensemble. Nicolas Dromard portrayed Tommy DeVito with the crassness and overpowering attitude of a bully, and sang the harmonies with excellence.
Adam Zelasko portrayed Nick with the quiet determination of the performer that took the back seat a lot of the time, but always tried to help his brother keep it together. Adam’s voice was powerful and played homage to Nick and the rest of the group with perfection.
The biggest corner was turned when the group was joined by Bob Guido, played by Quinn VanAntwerp. I am not a fan of giving extra praise to one actor or another, especially in a show that is ensemble driven, but as amazing as the other members of the group were, Quinn’s acting ability gave him a stage presence that just could not be matched. His singing had this subtle quality, that foreshadowed his actions in the coming scenes. Quinn was nothing short of brilliant which is saying something because all of the actors on stage were amazing.
Another character worth noting was Bob Crewe, the producer that put and kept the Four Seasons working and famous. Barry Anderson’s gifted portrayal of Bob was nothing short of fantastic. Even as a featured actor, he had a command of the stage that allowed him to stand out in the scenes that he was in.
The rest of the actors completed the ensemble with perfection. A few of the actors had multiple roles, and were played with such finesse that it was not apparent unless you read the program.
With all the well deserved accolades I have given Jersey Boys, I did notice a few problems from my orchestra seat. The balance of the microphones seem to be off when transitioning from singing to dialogue as there were several points where it was hard to hear.
The direction while good, had some unusual placement of the actors. There were times when I really needed to see what the actor was feeling, but their back was to the audience. Every novice director is taught to position the actors to face front as much as possible, but in the professional arena, those rules are thrown out the window in order to make room for new visions, art and realism. Unfortunately, there were a few moments where if this rule would have been applied it would have made for even stronger moments within the show.
Lastly, one of the designs I absolutely loved about the show were the sets. They were simple, and clean which allowed for the acting and singing to take center stage without focus going to some special effects. The sets were so simple the actors were even tasked with bringing furniture and props on and off the stage. I haven’t such simplicity since “Spring Awakening”. It added to the charm of the show.
All-in-all, this show is worth seeing. So many times national tours come through Tampa and just look tired. This show is incredibly energized and fun to watch.
A MUST SEE!
Can you feel the magic of Christmas in the air? With all the urgency of completing our shopping before that December 25th deadline sometimes we don’t slow down enough to enjoy just the simplicity of the holidays. I spent a majority of my life in the Midwest, so living here, in this snowless climate, I usually find myself missing the aura of the holiday season. Not this year, Baby. I was lucky enough to be an audience member for the opening of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes at the David A. Straz Center here in Tampa.
Out of all the time I spent in New York City, I never had the privilege of seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve been missing out. Even this former performer was amazed with the synchronicity and precision of not only the dancing of the Rockettes themselves, but the remarkable coexistence with several different types of media.
The festivities started an hour before the audience was even allowed into their seats, with the Rockettes marching from the stage door to the red carpet outside Carol Morsani Hall. With pure elegance and grace each Rockette took an arm of an uniformed Tampa Police Officer and were escorted into the theater. It was a pure showing of honor to our civil servants that was so simple yet so powerful. I cannot begin to explain why. I imagine that is the limitations of my writing ability. The honor didn’t stop there. The Tampa Police Chief took an opportunity to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, on stage, to a group of children at the opening of the show. Again, it seemed like such an honor to the chief and our civil servants.
The night consisted of 12 different numbers lasting about 96 minutes including a 20 minute intermission, but it flew by so fast. The night was narrated by Santa Claus, who also sang with a booming baritone voice that projected proudly throughout the arena.
My personal favorite had to be a scaled down performance of the Nutcracker with a little girl playing Clara, that was an absolute phenomenal dancer, not to mention other incredible dancers in oversized animal costumes. I have no idea how the dance so gracefully with those huge heads.
This show was brilliant, funny, emotionally moving and just plain fun for the whole family. The Rockettes give a performance worth seeing in this wonderful holiday show.
I give it Five out of Five Goofs.
The Radio CIty Christmas Specatacular plays at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, December 12th through the 29th Tues thru Sunday. See the Straz Center Website for details. http://www.strazcenter.org/Rockettes.aspx
I was courted to review Flashdance: The Musical at the Straz Center for their opening night on Tuesday, but other commitments kept me from attending. Rather than give up my tickets and sacrifice a review I sent volunteers, Mrs. Miranda Lessie, Mrs. Amy Eck and Bennett Eck in my place.
This is my first Guest Blog as it is written by Miranda Lessie.
Flashdance: The Musical – Straz Center for the Arts, Tampa Florida. 19 Feb 2013
Move over Las Vegas, there is a new party in town and it’s called Flashdance. Can you remember the iconic water works scene in the original movie? You won’t have to imagine it for long once you sit down for this new musical.
If you love the 80’s music, hair styles, dancing and most of all the legwarmers, you will be right at home with this production. Even if you don’t adore these things, you will find yourself moving to the live orchestra which sounding more like an 80’s hair band than an orchestra. Perfect for this play.
The play starts off with a running start and gets right into the story line. It was a fast start for me who prefers more of a background building and character development. Once all the characters were introduced throughout the play, the story line begun to come alive and I fell in love with each character. Kudos to the Casting director who found the perfect character for each performer whom seemed to have been born to play their particular part. The leading lady Emily Padgett was a dead ringer for the original movie character.
I found some characters had a shaky start with their first song but each ended with a bang. The singing in the play was equal to, if not better than, the dancing. All the performers were superb singers, dancers and actors.
The set and lighting was a plus for this play. I never questioned what location we were at in the play because there was a huge display at the top of the stage at every scene change. My only question about the set is “just how did they do that water dance scene?” It was so perfect.
Costumes were exquisite but not over the top. They were very believable for the time period. They were also just on the edge of being rated a little more than PG-13. The language was appropriate for this type of play and slang was kept a very minimum.
As I walked out of the playhouse, I wondered why I didn’t attend more productions. I absolutely fell in love with this medium and will be back soon. The actors made this play but the scene and music made the actors. ~ Miranda Lessie
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