And the Recognition Goes To… Nominations for the 41st Annual Carbonell Awards Announced

By Mary Damiano

The wait is over.

9-me-and-my-girl-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-jen-vasbinder

Julie Kleiner and Matt Loehr in My and My Girl

An old-fashioned, splashy musical about a working-class Londoner who discovers he’s nobility and a world premiere play about the consequences of bullying received the most nominations in the musical and play categories for the 41st annual Carbonell Awards, which honors excellence in theater in South Florida.

Me and My Girl, produced by Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, led the musical category with 10 nominations. After, produced by Zoetic Stage in Miami, led the play category with 8 nominations.  Nineteen of South Florida’s theaters earned nominations for a variety of shows produced during 2016.  Maltz Jupiter Theatere in Palm Beach County earned the most nominations of any theater with 18. Zoetic Stage and GableStage, both in Miami-Dade County, earned 13 nominations each.  Slow Burn Theatre Company in Fort Lauderdale earned 12 nominations, the most of any theater in Broward County.  Nominations were spread over 36 shows from theaters stretching from Coral Gables north to Jupiter.

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The cast of After at Zoetic Stage

Palm Beach County theaters and Miami-Dade County theaters tied with a total of 39 nominations for each county, while Broward County theaters earned 22 nominations.

The awards will be handed out at the Carbonell Awards ceremony, which will be held Monday, April 3, 2017 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

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Jeni Hacker and Nicholas Richberg in Passion at Zoetic Stage

Nine performers and designers have double the reason to be happy with the nominations this year.  Jeni Hacker was nominated as Best Actress, Musical for Passion as well as Best Supporting Actress, Play, for After, both at Zoetic Stage.  Laura Hodos is nominated as Best Actress, Musical, for The Will Rogers Follies at Maltz Jupiter Theatre as well as for Best Supporting Actress, Musical, for 1776 at Palm Beach Dramaworks.  Matt Loehr garnered a pair of Best Actor, Musical, nominations for his performances in Me and My Girl and The Will Rogers Follies, both at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.   Michael McKeever received a Best New Work nomination and a Best Supporting Actor, Play, nomination for his world premiere at Zoetic Stage, After.  Stuart Meltzer is nominated for Best Director in both the play and musical categories for Passion and After, both at Zoetic Stage.  Patrick Fitzwater earned a Best Director, Musical, nomination for Spring Awakening and a Best Choreography nomination for Heathers, both at Slow Burn Theatre Company.  Caryl Fantel received two nominations for Best Musical Direction of Slow Burn Theatre Company’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Passion at Zoetic Stage. Gail Baldoni received two nominations for Best Costume Design for Me and My Girl and The Will Rogers Follies, while Marty Mets earned two Best Sound Design nominations for Frost/Nixon and Me and My Girl, all at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

Gary Cadwallader & Laura Hodos in 1776

Gary Cadwallader and Laura Hodos in 1776 at Palm Beach Dramaworks

This Carbonell year distinguished itself by having more shows recommended by opening weekend panelists than in past years.  Overall, 74 shows were recommended to the judges by opening weekend panelists.  Of those 74 shows, 31 were musicals.  By contrast, for the 2015 Carbonell year, 61 shows received a recommended status and of those, 23 were musicals.

“South Florida boasts a thriving theater scene which continually raises the standard of excellence that the Carbonell Awards seeks to recognize and reward,” said Don Walters, president of the Carbonell Awards Board of Directors.  “Look at the Carbonell nominees for Best Production of a Play—that category alone shows the diversity of theater being produced regularly in South Florida, from classics of American theater to experimental work, as well as a world premiere play.  And there are six nominees in that category, which means our judges simply could not winnow their selections to the standard five and exemplifies the enormous amount of excellent work being produced here in our tri-county area.”

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Ryan George, Gregg Weiner, Angemange Clay and Andre Gainey in The Royale at GableStage

The ceremony will take place Monday, April 3 in the Amaturo Theater, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets for Nominees and Groups will be available starting January 28 through March 6th.  Visit CarbonellAwards.org and click the TICKETS link for full details. Single tickets priced at $25 plus service fee will go onsale to the public on March 13 and can be purchased at the Broward Center’s Box Office by calling 954-462-0222 or visiting www.browardcenter.org. Day of show tickets will be available for $30 plus service fee.

A complete list of the 2016 nominations and a breakdown of nominations by county, theater and production follows.

Carbonell Award Nominations, 2016

Best New Work (play or musical)

After, Michael McKeever, Zoetic Stage

Middletown, Dan Clancy, West Boca Theatre Company

Three Sisters of Weehawken,  Deborah Zoe Laufer, Theatre Lab

Unlikely Heroes, Charles Gluck, Family Pool Productions

 

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The cast of Hand to God at GableStage

Best Production of a Play 

After, Zoetic Stage

Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Hand to God, GableStage

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

The Royale, GableStage

 

Best Director/Play 

Joseph Adler, The Royale, GableStag

Barry Lewis, Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Stuart Meltzer, After, Zoetic Stage

Nicole Stodard, Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

Paul Tei, The Flick, Mad Cat Theatre

 

Best Actor/Play (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Aygemang Clay, The Royale, GableStage

Chris Crawford, Buyer and Cellar, Actors’ Playhouse

Peter Galman, A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, Thinking Cap Theatre

John Jellison, Frost/ Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Wesley Slade, Hand to God, GableStage


Best Actress/Play (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Rita Joe, The Submission, Island City Stage

Margery Lowe, Hand to God, GableStage

Mia Matthews, After, Zoetic Stage

Elizabeth Price, Reborning, The Theatre at Arts Garage

Avery Sommers, The Devil’s Music, The Theatre at Arts Garage

 

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Conor Walton and Seth Trucks in The Normal Heart at Outre Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor/Play 

Alex Alvarez, Stalking the Bogeyman, GableStage

Kristian Bikic, Hand to God, GableStage

Michael McKeever, After, Zoetic Stage

Tom Wahl, After, Zoetic Stage

Conor Walton, The Normal Heart, Outré Theatre Company

 

Best Supporting Actress/Play 

Elizabeth Dimon, Three Sisters of Weehawken, Theatre Lab

Christina Groom, Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

Jeni Hacker, After, Zoetic Stage

Shein Mompremier, The Royale, GableStage

Lourelene Snedeker, It’s Only a Play, GableStage

 

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Bobby Cassell and Matthew Korinko in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Production of a Musical

1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Passion, Zoetic Stage

Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Director/Musical 

Clive Cholerton, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

James Brennan, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Michel Hausman, The Golem of Havana, Miami New Drama

Patrick Fitzwater, Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Stuart Meltzer, Passion, Zoetic Stage

 

Best Actor/Musical (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Gary Cadwallader, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Bobby Cassell, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Matt Loehr, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Matt Loehr, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Nicholas Richberg, Passion, Zoetic Stage

 

Best Actress/Musical (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Jeni Hacker, Passion, Zoetic Stage

Laura Hodos, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Julie Kleiner, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Stephanny Noria, Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Jenna Pastuszek, Evita, Broward Stage Door Theatre

 

Best Supporting Actor/Musical 

Matthew Korinko, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Chaz Mena, The Golem of Havana, Miami New Drama

Dominique Scott, Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

Dominic Servidio, Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Christian Vandepas, A Minister’s Wife, GableStage

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Leah Sessa, center, in Heathers at Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actress/Musical 

Laura Hodos, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Isabelle McCalla, West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

Jessica Brooke Sanford, Sister Act, The Wick Theatre

Leah Sessa, Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Mary Stout, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

 

Best Musical Direction/Musical

Eric Alsford, West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

Craig D. Ames, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Caryl Fantel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Caryl Fantel, Passion, Zoetic Stage

Helen Gregory, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Choreography/Musical 

Patrick Fitzwater, Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Ron Hutchins, West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

Dan Knechtges, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Kelly Shook, I Love a Piano, The Wick Theatre

Shea Sullivan, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Scenic Design/play or musical 

Michael Amico, The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Jodi Dellaventura, The Nether, Area Stage

Paul Tate De Poo III, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Michael McClain, After, Zoetic Stage

Sean McClelland, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Lighting Design/play or musical 

Paul Black, The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Jeff Quinn, The Royale, GableStage

Eric Nelson, Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

Giancarlo Rodaz, The Nether, Area Stage

Donald Edmund Thomas, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Palm Beach Dramaworks

 

perfect-arrangement

Kim Ostrenko, Christina Groom and Arlette Del Toro in Oerfect Arrangement at Island City Stage

Best Costume Design/play or musical 

Gail Baldoni, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Gail Baldoni, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Peter A. Lovello, Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

Brian O’Keefe, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Rick Peña, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

 

Best Sound Design/play or musical 

Matt Corey, The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

David Hart, Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

Marty Mets, Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Marty Mets, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Shaun Mitchell, Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

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Gretchen Porros and Christian Vandepas in Mud at Thinking Cap Theatre

Best Ensemble Production (play or musical) 

The Flick, Mad Cat Theatre Company

It’s Only a Play, GableStage

Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

The World Goes ‘Round, MNM Productions

2016 Carbonell Award Nominations, By County

Miami-Dade    39 nominations

Broward          22 nominations

Palm Beach     39 nominations

 

2016 Carbonell Award Nominations, By Theater

Miami-Dade County

13  GableStage

13  Zoetic Stage

7  Actors’ Playhouse

2  Area Stage

2  Mad Cat Theatre

2  Miami New Drama

Broward County

12 Slow Burn Theatre Company

5  Thinking Cap Theatre

4  Island City Stage

1  Broward Stage Door

Palm Beach County

18  Maltz Jupiter Theatre

11  Palm Beach Dramaworks

2  Theatre at Arts Garage Arts Garage

2  Theatre Lab

2  The Wick Theatre

1  Family Pool Productions

1  MNM Productions

1  Outré Theatre Company

1  West Boca Theatre

2016 Carbonell Award Nominations, By Production

10  Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

8   After, Zoetic Stage

6   The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre

6   1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

5   Passion, Zoetic Stage

5   The Royale, GableStage

4   Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

4   Hand to God, GableStage

4   Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

4   The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

3   Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre

3   Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

3   The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

3   Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

3   Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

3   West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

2   The Flick, Mad Cat Theatre

2   The Golem of Havana, Miami New Drama

2   It’s Only a Play, GableStage

2   Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Palm Beach Dramaworks

2   The Nether, Area Stage

2   Three Sisters of Weehawken, Theatre Lab

1   A Minister’s Wife, GableStage

1   Buyer & Cellar, Actors’ Playhouse

1   Evita, Broward Stage Door Theatre

1   The Devil’s Music, The Theatre at Arts Garage

1   A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,

Thinking Cap Theatre

1   I Love a Piano, The Wick Theatre

1   Middletown, West Boca Theatre Company

1   The Normal Heart, Outré Theatre Company

1   Reborning, The Theatre at Arts Garage

1   Sister Act, The Wick Theatre

1   Stalking the Boogeyman, GableStage

1   The Submission, Island City Stage

1   Unlikely Heroes, Family Pool Productions

1   The World Goes ‘Round, MNM Productions

“The Producers”: Lackluster Leads Mar Maltz Production

By Mary Damiano

1-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-alicia-donelanMaltz Jupiter Theatre’s new production of The Producers is a head-scratcher.  How did this theatre that does things so right end up doing so much wrong with this show?

The Producers is Mel Brooks’ hilarious, splashy musical about theatrical producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom, who scheme to put on the worst musical ever, because, with some creative accounting, there’s more money to be made on a flop than a hit.  Bialystock and Bloom find a script, “Springtime for Hitler” written by furhur-loving Nazi  Franz Liebkind, hire flamboyant director Roger Debris.To gay it up, and then hire the worst actors available.  They figure with that with so much bad, they’ll close the show on opening night and run off to Rio with $2 million.  What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot, in this musical within a musical.

6-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-jeffery-barryFirst, let’s start with what goes right in the Maltz production.  The ensemble is terrific, singing and tapping and dancing their way through big production numbers and oodles of costumes changes.  The costumes by Gail Baldoni are over-the-top and fabulous.  The scenic design, by Paul Tate DePoo III, with its odd angles and forced perspective, gives the show a quirky, whimsical quality.  Shea Sullivan’s choreography is energetic and fun, and for the ensemble, often dazzling.

Roland Rusinek is the cast standout as Franz Liebkind.  He milks every bit of humor out of his Franz, and seems to be the only one with an understanding of the tone The Producers needs to make it work.

3-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-alicia-donelanSo what goes wrong in the Maltz production?  First there’s the scale.  The Producers is a big musical, and this regional, scaled-back production doesn’t achieve the spectacle it should. One of the most famous numbers, “Along Came Bialy” which features a big dance number of little old ladies with walkers, feels small.  And that’s the feeling of several of the big numbers—they simply lack the volume needed to pull them off successfully.

But the biggest problem with The Producers lies with its leads.  Lenny Wolpe possesses none of the mania needed to make Max Bialystock work.  Sure, he’s got a good voice, but his lack of energy brings the show way down.  His big number, “Betrayed,” should be a tour-de-force solo that builds to a climactic finish, but Wolpe invests so little into the song that those few minutes are easily spent admiring Paul Black’s jail cell lighting design than being enthralled by Wolpe’s performance.

7-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-jeffery-barryMark Price fares a little better as Leo Bloom.  Price comes off as a schlubby Tony Randall in posture and voice.  He exhibits more energy, but his delivery is too slow and quiet, even toward the end when Leo should have grown a backbone.   His best number is shared with his love interest, Swedish bombshell Ula (Elyse Collier) in the lovely duet “That Face”.

Maybe this production of The Producers will improve over the course of the run. Maybe Wolpe and Price will find their footing and let loose so their performances match the tone of the show.  Maybe they can nail the leading man luster that this production lacks.  But since none of that was evident on opening night, that’s a big maybe.

The Producers runs through January 29 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.  JupiterTheatre.org

Kings of Harlem: The First Must-See Show of the Year

By Mary Damiano

Great sports stories are never about sports.

kings-of-harlem-photo1And Kings of Harlem, a riveting play now at M Ensemble in Miami is a great sports story.  Even though it about a  basketball team, the Harlem Renaissance—the Harlem Rens for short—who were great champions of the Negro leagues before major league sports were integrated and were largely whitewashed from mainstream history, basketball is just the vehicle for a story about men with heart and what they meant to a marginalized community.

Written and directed by Layon Gray, Kings of Harlem begins with an inspiring, powerful speech that Coach “Pops” Coffey (Allan Louis) delivers to his team before the biggest game of their lives in 1939.  Fast forward to present day, in which the coach’s grandson Benjamin Coffey (Ray Lockhart) is delivering a Powerpoint presentation which about the historical significance of the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom, the social hub of Harlem, which has been bulldozed by a corporation.  This prologue lays the groundwork for the story of the Harlem Rens, and seamlessly flows into their story.

And while Kings of Harlem details the Harlem Rens’ championship season that year, culminating with a post-season integrated series, the real story is the men on the team, what drives them, what they mean to their community, and what it means to them to be better, faster and to win more games, yet still be denied the chance to play in the league with their white counterparts.

The scenic design is simple: a basketball court, which serves the few other locales well. And though he is not credited as choreographer, Gray has staged some spectacular moves, not just in the course of the actual game scenes but in rhythmic practice sessions and sequences evoking the jazz and swing era that are absolutely thrilling.

The cast is excellent.  Andre L. Gainey is terrific as JoJo, the oldest player on the team, who takes a fatherly interest in the younger players.  Chris Boldon adds some comic relief as fast-talking Nat, but is also heart-breaking when he relates what drives him. Marquise Rogers shines in a harrowing scene in which his character, Clem, relates a family tragedy. And as Pops, Louis embodies the kind of leader a team would follow anywhere.

This is the first show in M Ensemble’s new space, the Sandrell Rivers Theatre in the Audrey M. Edmondson Transit Village in Miami.  The new venue is handsome and spacious, with a nimble black box space, the kind of home M Ensemble deserves.

As Benjamin Coffey says several times during the play, “History deserves the right to live.” With Kings of Harlem, Gray has created a fitting home for this forgotten piece of history, and has made M Ensemble’s production the first must-see show of the year.  Do not miss it.

Kings of Harlem runs through January 29.  For tickets and more information, visit TheMEnsemble.com.

World Premiere Play Puts Young Lesbians in Love Center Stage

By Mary Damiano

AndieArthurBWcrop

Andie Arthur

What would you give to have anything your heart desires?  That’s the question posed by Andie Arthur in her new play, Juliet Among the Changelings, which has its world premiere tonight at the Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes.  A young adult lesbian romance, the play is produced by the theatre company Arthur co-founded three years ago, Lost Girls Theatre.  In addition to being a playwright, Arthur has been the executive director of the South Florida Theatre League for nearly a decade.  Here, she talks about her inspiration for her play, what it’s like to go from playwright to producer, and why it’s important to see women’s stories on stage.

Where did the idea for Juliet Among the Changelings come from?

I’ve actually been writing a version of this play for about ten years now. I was in a playwriting workshop led by Carlos Murillo, who gave us an exercise where he laid out plot points from various plays and we would pick up one that we didn’t recognize and write a scene from it. And the plot point I picked up was, “A woman gives up her baby for magical powers.” I knew from the moment I read the prompt that I wanted to write a play from the perspective of the baby.  It took a long time before that became the current structure of Juliet Among the Changelings. This play is very much inspired by addiction to reading young adult fantasy novels — which I tend to love because (aside from Twilight) they pretty consistently feature complicated young women with agency. For our theatre company, which has a target audience of young adults, I wanted to write a young adult novel as a play. I simply subverted it by making the love story between two young women and played around with a lot of the tropes of the genre.  It’s also based on Celtic Fairy Lore, which is another long standing place of geekery for me.

Would you say there are themes running through your work?

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Sofia Duemichen and Diana Garle

I’m interested in the stories of women, all different kinds of women and all different kinds of experiences of femininity. Genre-wise,  my plays range all over the map. When I get the question what sort of plays do you write, I kinda want to say all of them. My plays have ranged from historical dramas to romantic comedies about the apocalypse, but all of them have centered around a female protagonist.

What have been the biggest challenges producing your first world premiere with your own theatre company?

There’s always a thing when you know something is going be challenging and then actually facing the reality of how challenging it is. As executive director of the South Florida Theatre League, I’ve heard and helped a lot around issues of lack of advance ticket sales and fundraising, but it’s entirely different perspective when you’re in the trenches. I think I will become a much better ED of the League for this experience.

Rather than waiting for a theatre to produce your work, you made it happen on your own.  How daunting is that?

It’s not easy, but I highly recommend it. There’s something so freeing about saying, “Let’s do the work we want to see in the world” instead of complaining that the world doesn’t conform to my standards. This is our first time out and we have learned a lot — and we’ll definitely do things differently in the future — but it’s so nice to be able to make something happen.

JulietCourtneyJenn

Courtney Poston and Jennipher Murphy

What do you want the audience to get from your show?

I hope they enjoy it. The best thing that I could imagine is a young lesbian being able to see herself in this narrative. Of course, she wouldn’t be dealing with the magical part, but she would get to see someone like her on stage. There’s that great Junot Diaz quote about how if you don’t see yourself reflected in culture, you become a vampire. It’s so true. It’s so rare to see a young woman be the lead in a story for the theatre — most of the time they’re love interests or daughters or there for sex appeal, and it’s even rarer for lesbians to see themselves onstage. I hope that we can reach them and that they come out to see themselves on stage.

Juliet Among the Changelings  by Lost Girls Theatre runs through  August 21 at Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes.  For tickets and more information, visit LostGirlsTheatre.com

Production photos by Vyvian Figueredo

The World Goes ‘Round Is Out of This World

By Mary Damiano

World Cast 4

Shelley Keelor, Clay Cartland, Jinon Deeb, Michael Scott Ross and Leah Sessa

Chicago. Cabaret. Kiss of the Spider Woman. The Rink. New York, New York. Woman of the Year.  All are legendary shows with songs composed by a legendary team, John Kander and Fred Ebb.

After the success of the revival of Chicago on Broadway, songs from Kander and Ebb shows were fashioned into the musical revue The World Goes ‘Round, which premiered on Broadway in 1991.  It was later revised to include songs from lesser-known shows, and now, South Florida audiences can see MNM Productions’ wildly creative version of that revision, now at the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

The World Goes ‘Round and other revues of its ilk are popular in regional theatre because they’re relatively easy to produce: Five performers, a couple of musicians—bam, there’s a show.  But that’s not now MNM does a revue.  The World Goes ‘Round is magnificently staged, turning a collection of songs into a marvelous, fully-realized show.

World Shelley

Shelley Keelor

The World Goes ‘Round not only showcases a quintet of talented performers, but also showcases its visionary director, Bruce Linser.  What could have been an evening of fine singers performing classic Broadway show tunes with a little choreography thrown in has become a wildly inventive piece of theatre.  Linser has mined each song for humor and poignancy and emotion, created the thread of a love triangle that runs throughout the show and combined songs from different shows in a way that would make Kander and Ebb wonder why they didn’t put them together to begin with.

His staging of each song in The World Goes ‘Round is intricately sculpted into its own vignette, that both stands on its own and also fits within the larger piece.  Ring Them Bells from Liza with a Z becomes a fully acted sketch, while Me and My Baby from Chicago becomes a funny take on our love of modern love of technology. Even the hot-button numbers that you think you know are given a fresh look.  Cabaret, usually a solo star turn, is given a more nuanced Pentatonix-style arrangement that emphasizes harmonies.  And New York, New York is performed as a fun tip of the hat to the Big Apple’s multicultural population.

World Leah Sessa-2

Leah Sessa

In perhaps the most inventive and hilarious piece, Shelley Keelor and Jinon Deeb play a couple of clueless theatre patrons who wander in while the rest of the cast is performing a scene from Chicago, and then, while singing Class, proceed to commit every offense a rude audience member can. It’s a wonderful re-imagining of the song, as well as a lesson to the audience.  (It didn’t have an effect on everyone though, as some patrons still left the show while the cast was taking their bows.  Hey Traffic-Beaters:  You were rude and you missed a terrific encore.)

Harmonies are tight and fluid.  The ensemble numbers such as Money from Chicago and Coffee in a Cardboard Cup from 70, Girls 70 are great fun—the cast even performs on roller skates for the title song from The Rink—but each member of the cast also gets a show-stopping moment.  Leah Sessa gets two biggies, doing a fan-Fosse-tastic job with All That Jazz from Chicago, and then later delivering a powerful solo on the torchy Maybe This Time from Cabaret, that prompted several people to give her a standing ovation.  Clay Cartland shows off his thrilling voice on Kiss of the Spider Woman and silently displays his athleticism while Sessa sings the bawdy Arthur in the Afternoon from The Act.  Keelor is lovely and poignant on Colored Lights from The Rink, which also features a young skater, Olivia Rose Chiampou. Michael Scott Ross brought more than one tear to audience members’ eyes with Sometimes a Day Goes By from Woman of the Year, and Deeb, who opens the show with the titular song, also shines on Ring Them Bells and in her other duet with Keelor, The Grass is Always Greener from Woman of the Year.

world 2 Leah Clay

Clay Catland and Leah Sessa

Even musical director Paul Reekie, who helms a killer five-piece band, gets into the act, singing Mr. Cellophane from Chicago, while the rest of the cast illustrate what it’s like for a singer to perform in a bar with rowdy patrons.

To bridge the gap between the intimate club set and the cavernous Rinker Theatre, the singers sometimes move through the audience. Kimberly Dawn Smith’s choreography is nimble and sexy and fun.  Jayson Thomasheski’s lighting design is beautifully evocative, while Kenny Reiss’s sound is flawless. Linda Shorrock’s costumes are sexy and imaginative.

Even if you’ve heard these Kander and Ebb songs before, you’ve never heard them like this.  And even if you’ve see The World Goes ‘Round before, you’ve never seen it like this.  Don’t miss it.

The World Goes ‘Round runs through August 21 at the Rinker Playhouse at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.  For tickets and information, visit Kravis.org.

All photos by George Wentzler

 

Drag Take on Gilligan’s Island Is No Drag

By Mary Damiano

GFICast1 Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…

This is not your father’s Gilligan’s Island, unless dear old dad did drag.

Those lovable stranded castaways from the iconic 1960s’ TV show are back in the hilarious romp, Gilligan’s Fire Island, now playing for two more weekends at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.

Written by Jamie Morris, who also appears in dual roles as both Thurston and Lovey Howell, Gilligan’s Fire Island is both a loving tribute and gay reboot. The result plays just like a lost episode of the show:  The castaways are thrown into a tizzy when a mysterious stranger from the future somehow winds up on the island possessing a device with the power to get them rescued.

In this case, that stranger is narcissistic, social media-obsessed reality star Cody, (Kyle Garcia) who is on a ferry making his first trip to Fire Island. After dissing an onboard performance by a drag queen, Cody gets knocked out.  Cut to that familiar island, brought to life in full tropical splendor by Michael McClain, and those familiar castaways, who discover Cody unconscious. Just about every cliché from the TV show is played out to perfection over the course of the play

The thing that makes Gilligan’s Fire Island work so well is that the TV show characters play it relatively straight, meaning that except for them being vaguely aware that they all look exactly the same as they did in 1964 when the series began, despite being stranded on the island for more than 50 years, they are simply the characters as we remember them.GFI2Cast

All of this could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways.  But Morris is skillful preserving the integrity of the show while injecting it with a great big shot of modern sensibility.

Garcia has the job of creating the only original character for the bulk of the show, and, as Cody, he takes the stereotypical, self-absorbed D-List celebrity to new heights—and new lows—meaning he’s really good at being really annoying, and in this case, that’s a good thing.

The rest of the cast is tasked with both embodying the characters we love, while bringing a little something extra to fit the premise.  They all succeed beautifully and together create a tight ensemble.

David Tracy is petite, pig-tailed Mary Ann, and he captures the farm girl’s voice and can-do attitude.  Morris gets huge laughs as the Howells—his quick costume changes often have hilarious results. Ben Prayz is the Professor, and from the looks of Prayz, the Professor has spent his time on the island working out his brawn as well as his brain. Scott Travis, as the Skipper, fits the bill both physically and with his bumbling good nature. Mike Westrich is the perfect Gilligan, and while he doesn’t get as much stage time as the other characters, he makes every moment count by channeling the little buddy we all remember.

But Trevor Peringer, who plays Ginger, steals the show.  Peringer’s height really fills out the movie star’s many slinky evening gowns, and he has Ginger’s breathless, whispery voice and deer-in-the-headlights befuddlement down pat.  His timing is also spot-on, and he knows how to wring every last laugh out of each moment.

If you want a laugh-out-loud evening at the theatre, Gilligan’s Fire Island is not to be missed.

Gilligan’s Fire Island runs through August 14 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.  For tickets and more information, visit EmpireStage.com.

 

A Classic Sitcom Gets the Slasher Treatment at Infinite Abyss

By Mary Damiano

Erynn Dalton

Erynn Dalton

To look at Erynn Dalton in all her bubbly, blonde loveliness, you’d never think that her tastes run to the macabre.

 

“It’s a fascination I’ve had as long as I can remember,” says Dalton.  “I was an early reader, and I distinctly remember reading Jaws when I was only six years old. Guess my mom and dad weren’t really concerned about what books I was getting my hands on.  I moved pretty quickly from Jaws to Stephen King, and I suppose my tastes were pretty much warped from that point on.”

Dalton’s theatre company, Infinite Abyss, specializes in immersive horror theatre.  And even when the company does more mainstream plays, they tend to be dark; in the past year they produced Bug, about a paranoid man and the woman who gets pulled into his world, and Extremities, about a rape survivor who captures her rapist.

But Infinite Abyss also does the lighter side of dark, such as their recent labor of love, The Rocky Horror Show, and their current project, Come and Knock on Our Door.

InfiniteAbyssCast

Cast members of Come and Knock on Our Door

Come and Knock on Our Door, as any die-hard sitcom fan knows, is the opening lyric to the theme song of Three’s Company.  For the uninitiated, Three’s Company ran on ABC from 1977 to 1984.  The original cast was comprised of  John Ritter as Jack, Suzanne Somers as Chrissy, Joyce DeWitt as Janet, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley as Mr. and Mrs. Roper, and Richard Kline as Larry.  The premise was quite risqué for the era: In order to share an apartment with Janet and Chrissy, straight guy Jack had to pretend to be gay so their prudish landlord Mr. Roper wouldn’t kick him out.  Cast changes and hijinks ensued for eight seasons.

At Infinite Abyss, Come and Knock on Our Door takes on a more sinister bent.  In this version, written by Dalton and Fernando Baron II,  it’s 1979 in Southern California and Jack is a killer.  His roommates are oblivious to his murderous tendencies but his landlord is suspicious and calls in a detective to investigate. The structure is that of a live TV sitcom taping, complete with a comedian from local improv troupe The Sick Puppies. Audience members are encouraged to come dressed in 1970s’ attire.

Infinite Abyss2

The Roommates of Come and knock on Our Door

“Though we tend to focus on dark themes, with all of the horrible news of late related to terrorism and a tense atmosphere due to politics, we wanted to do something light and funny while still remaining true to our horror roots,” Dalton says. “Fernando and I are big fans of both older sitcoms and horror, and the concept was born from a late night Facebook instant message session. The best ideas, at least for us, always seem to come organically during conversation, and this one was no different,” says Dalton, who also directed this world premiere.

Come and Knock on Our Door is the first show in Infinite Abyss’s Slasher Sitcom Series.  The plan is to produce one  installment each season.

“We’re already working on our next one that will be a slasher sitcom parody of  The Brady Bunch, says Dalton.  “This one will be called MEAT- The Untold Story of Sam the Butcher. That will go on stage next summer and will be tons of fun!”

Come and Knock on Our Door runs through Sunday at Infinite Abyss in Wilton Manors.  For tickets and more information, visit Infinite-Abyss.org

 

Get Wrecked on TBS with Lela Elam

By Mary Damiano

So, I was having lunch at New York Grilled Cheese in Wilton Manors two weeks ago with The

Lela Elam

The Fabulous Lela Elam

Fabulous Lela Elam—yes, that’s her official title, at least as far as I’m concerned—when she caught me up on her current project, the TBS TV series Wrecked.  I had been seeing Lela’s Facebook posts about Wrecked for some time, but I thought it was a movie she’d done.  Lela being in a series makes me happy at the opportunity to see her on a weekly basis, because she’s so talented—she could sit on a stage and read the phone book and it would be entertaining.

I found all the episodes available through TBS and Sling through my Roku box and embarked on a binge.

Wrecked is a sitcom send-up of Lost, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  In Wrecked, just like Lost, the plot centers on passengers who have survived a plane crash and must find a way to survive on a mysterious island.  Some of the characters on Wrecked pay homage to characters on Lost, some are composites, some are original.  The first shot of the show mimics the first shot of Lost, and the plots sometimes mirror Lost, and other times portray the what ifs that Lost fans probably asked while they watched the show.  But you don’t need to have ever seen an episode of Lost to understand or be entertained by WreckedLost may have been a jumping off point, but the show is forging its own identity.

Todd Wrecked

Todd Allen Durkin

Lela plays Diane from Toledo. Just the idea of getting stranded on a desert island with The Fabulous Lela Elam is appealing.  She gets some good lines and scenes.  So far Lela’s most pivotal scenes have been in the episode Always Meant to See That, which asks this question:  If you had to choose what could possibly be the last movie you will ever see, would you choose something wacky or something big and important?  Does it come down to entertainment or a moral imperative? Stupid fun or political correctness?

That’s the kind of stuff Wrecked explores. Other episodes have dealt with hoarding food, meting out justice and the question of attempting to escape or forming a society on the island.

Wrecked 109- 25333_010

Wrecked Cast

Wrecked features other talented actors based in South Florida, including Mike Benitez and Todd Allen Durkin, who plays the unfortunately monikered Kurt Turdhole—pronounced, according to Kurt, Tur-doh-lay—who ends up as the constant butt of jokes, pun intended.

Wrecked is a fun show and definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of Lost or a fan of The Fabulous Lela Elam.

New episodes of Wrecked air on Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.  Catch up on older episodes on On Demand.

Once Upon a Mattress at FAU is a Theatrical Delight

By Mary Damiano

OUAM Bed

Emily Freeman and Eytan Deray

I had never seen Once Upon a Mattress, the charming musical based on the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea.  Musicals are not like movies.  You can’t get them on demand; you have to wait for someone to actually produce them.  So I was thrilled when I saw that Florida Atlantic University was doing Once Upon a Mattress in Boca Raton, finally giving me the chance to see the musical that made Carol Burnett a star.

This production is not traditional.  Director Bruce Linser gives it the framework of a troupe of performers presenting the show at a Renaissance festival.  Keeping with that concept, Once Upon a Mattress has lively pre-show entertainment, with members of the ensemble stilt-walking, juggling, and interacting with the audience.

Queen Dauntless2

Maribeth Graham and Eytan Deray

What follows is an absolute delight, a confection of a show that walks the balance beam between bawdy and innocent, with hilarious results.  The plot goes like this: Queen Aggravain (Maribeth Graham) has declared that no one in the kingdom can marry until her son, Prince Dauntless (Eytan Deray) marries. But she is much too attached to her son and puts each wannabe bride through tests the poor girls cannot possibly pass. Frustrations are running high in the kingdom, especially for lissome Lady Larken (Tara Collandra) who faces scandal in about nine months if she can’t marry handsome Sir Harry (Jordan Armstrong) who, learning of their date with the stork, rides off in search of a princess for the prince. Enter Princess Winnifred (Emily Freeman) a smart and sassy tomboy with all the girlish grace of a gopher. And while Winnifred endears herself to the prince and the rest of the court, the queen is unmoved.  Hijinks ensue on the bumpy road to would-be wedlock.

Winifred2

Emily Freeman

FAU students and a few guest artists make up the cast.  Graham is deliciously hissable as Queen Aggravain, while you can’t help but root for her mute, henpecked hubby, King Sextimus, played by Barry Tarallo, who gets to put his pantomime skills to good use.  Deray gives Prince Dauntless an effeminate edge that is ripe for laughs.  As Winnifred, Freeman displays a goofy charm and a willingness to do anything for a laugh.

Once Upon a Mattress boasts a strong cast that delivers a delightful few hours of theatre.

Once Upon a Mattress runs through July 31 at FAU in Boca Raton.  For tickets and more information, call 800-564-9539 or visit fauevents.com.

1776: Last Weekend to See Spectacular Production

By Mary Damiano

Gary Cadwallader & Laura Hodos in 1776

Gary Cadwallader and Laura Hodos in 1776

I don’t usually review shows in their closing weekends, but when a production like 1776 comes along, well, to crib a line from Arthur Miller and this show, attention must be paid.

As a history buff, 1776, which details the events leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence,  has always been one of my favorites—the film version is a staple of my July 4th celebration.  Palm Beach Dramaworks’ 1776 is both timely and inventive, and shows how little has changed in 240 years.

Director Clive Cholerton has employed a clever concept for this production of the patriotic musical, giving it a prologue and epilogue showing that politics in these Untied States has been a combative, even dirty, business since day one. And, in order to stage a traditional musical with a large cast and still keep within a modern budget, Cholerton double and even triple-cast his ensemble, with an interesting twist: nearly each actor plays a representative on each side of the argument for American independence.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about how that would work.  But all doubt was gone within the first few minutes. The casting idea comes off seamlessly in show.  The production is so energetic that there is always something to draw focus while an actor is slipping out for a quick costume change in order to make an entrance as someone else.  Sometimes the change is even faster—several times Matthew Korinko, who plays delegates James Wilson and George Read, delivers his line, changes his coat onstage and delivers the next line as the other character.  The production is so well done that there is little confusion in these character changes, and the whole thing is fascinating to watch.

Nicholas Richberg in 1776

Nicholas Richberg in 1776

There’s not a weak link in the cast.  Gary Cadwallader delivers a bravura performance as the impassioned, independence-obsessed  John Adams; Allan Baker’s Ben Franklin is affable but with an edge.  Nicholas Richberg is hilariously flamboyant as Richard Henry Lee and sternly villainous as John Dickinson. Laura Hodos is John Hancock, but her gorgeous soaring voice is really showcased as Abigail Adams.  Clay Cartland is at his brash best as Thomas Jefferson.  And Shane Tanner, playing slave-proponent Edward Rutledge, nearly stops the show with his powerful, spine-tingling performance of Molasses to Rum.

There couldn’t be a better time to see 1776.  Because in this tumultuous political climate, in which no one is certain about where the country is going, it makes sense to see how it all began and be reminded of the principles that lead to the founding of the United States of America.

1776 runs through Sunday at Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach.  For more information and tickets, visit PalmBeachDramaworks.org.