Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Circo Hermanos Vazquez: just two more shows

Learned pigs were new to us. All the acts were fast-paced and expert and some were quite novel. There were feats of strength and balance by two acrobats without props of any kind. A rapid roller-skating act within a very small circumference was astonishing, and so was a high trapeze act that was more about balance than about swinging; the audience scarcely dared to breathe during these. Liberty horses with a high quotient of Arabians were very pretty, and so were Bactrian camels and zebras. A woman on a braced pole was graceful in her strength. The little boys in the audience were especially mesmerized by a dual wheel-of-death act. A pair of bad-boy clowns and a Martian clown new to Earth were both really funny, both for children and adults, although the “undocumented” Martian undergoing an interrogation was for the grown-ups.

The tent is air-conditioned and there are molded-plastic seats affixed to the bleachers, all really very comfortable. There was an ATM machine for those who didn’t bring enough money for souvenirs. Refreshments included Coca-Cola, bottled water, palomitas/popcorn, nachos, algodones/cotton candy, alitas/chicken wings, and more. Little boys couldn’t resist the light swords, and little girls loved their lighted butterfly wands.

A live band of at least six accompanied almost all of the acts, at a volume that was sufficient but not too loud. Initial safety announcements were delivered in both Spanish and English; thereafter, all was in Spanish except for the act of the trained pigs, whose accompanying people spoke English followed by an announcer’s translation into Spanish.

The Web site for Circo Hermanos Vazquez does not appear to have been updated for this season’s new performers. It does announce performances for today at 6 pm and at 9 pm. The location is in the Highland Mall parking lot, with ample parking. Call 1-877-829-7839 to confirm current information.

More pictures are available; the audience is permitted to make videos and take still photographs so long as there’s no flash. And there’s a wonderful opportunity for souvenir pictures of children attending; during the brief intermission, the smallest children may be photographed atop a very small saddled pony and one of the learned pigs is available to be included in a photograph.

This is a circus for all ages and there’s no need to understand Spanish to love it, although that does help with some of the jokes!

Pagliacci

Pagliacci has come and gone now, but all lovers of music should mark their calendars for the next two Austin Lyric Opera productions: The Marriage of Figaro (January 31; February 2, 3, 2013) and Gounod’s Faust (April 25, 27, 28, 2013). These promise to be the giant crowd-pleasers that Pagliacci was. The orchestra just gets better and better and all was most pleasing about this production. We saw the Friday performance, and then confirmed our appreciation by listening to the Sunday live performance on KMFA 89.5-fm. The audience loved the surprise encore concert after the performance, when, accompanied by the orchestra, leading singers were joined by the chorus (also excellent) in song.

The Mikado a don’t-miss musical delight

The Mikado will make you happy. You will still be singing the songs the next day. If you’ve never been to a performance of this show, treat yourself and at least one other person to one of the five remaining performances (Thursday, 16 June, 8 pm; Friday, 17 June, 8 pm; Saturday 18 June, 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, 19 June, 3 pm).

The Mikado is theatrical magic in an intimate setting. An 11-member men’s chorus, a 12-member women’s chorus, a 16-piece orchestra, and outstanding singers and actors in the named roles join to form an ensemble that is even greater than the sum of its great parts. Bright costumes, clever sets, and ingenious choreography and stage business contribute mightily to the fun. The fans as wielded by the cast practically deserve their own credits in the program.

We attended a children’s matinee and were present for part of the hour-long program that preceded the performance the musical comedy. Nearly every child remained for the performance itself, and for the entire performance. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve enjoyed this comic light opera (thanks to the Austin Gilbert & Sullivan Society and to student performances at UT), it’s always fresh and funny.

At this performance, there were supertitles projected above the stage. Even though the lyrics are in English and the singers enunciate very clearly, I think that, since the rapid pace of some of the songs can be confusing to first-time audiences, being able to see the words promotes even more out-loud laughter from the crowd than usual.

The Mikado, the annual major production of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin, is playing at the Travis High School Performing Arts Center, where the amenities include comfortable seating with plenty of legroom, strong air-conditioning, and ample parking. Tickets are discounted when purchased in advance on line or by telephone.

The music is very beautiful, and it is played and sung with the excellence that it deserves.

Circus, circus

Only two shows remain (today, at 2 pm and 6 pm) before the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus moves on. Our tickets were fifteen dollars apiece, and they were worth every penny and more. There are no bad seats at the Erwin Center for Zing Zang Zoom, as the production’s called.

If there were favorites among the varied acts, they included the youthful Chinese acrobat troupe, the dog acts, the beautiful liberty zebras and horses (although I love those even better when there are plumes nodding atop their heads), the multi-platform Russian swing act, the chiffon dancers, and the beautifully choreographed and costumed vaguely Balinese dance accompanying the parade of elephants.

The band boasted nine pieces (two trumpets, a trombone, a saxophone, percussion, two guitars, and two keyboards), and it offered up a wonderful arrangement of our national anthem. For once, the ringmaster was not a singing one and so those of us spectators who sang were not overpowered by a show-bizzy vocal.

The costumes were all bright and clever, and the between-acts demonstration of a certain flying gizmo did a lot to sell examples to the audience. I succumbed to temptation myself, but haven’t yet tried out my skills. We all left the arena smiling, and some of us took time to peer backstage and see the artists, in and out of costume, and some of the jaunty performing dogs.

What an entertainment bargain!

Over the top

The circus is in town!The circus is in town and it’s as great an audience-pleaser as ever. The top levels at the Erwin Center were blocked off, and the entire quota of lower-level seats appeared to be sold out. Our tickets were a mere $15, and a complete bargain, so long as the souvenirs, photo ops, and refreshments can be resisted. This year, the presentation is the blue show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The costumes are inventive and colorful, the choreography is fresh, and every aspect contributes to a full theatrical experience. Certain acts (those with a vague aura of being refugees from Cirque du Soleil) were accompanied by somewhat New Age music; all music was courtesy of the band, incorporating a good number of live musicians and some prepared synthesized elements.

In the photograph of the departing audience may be seen a bit of a souvenir stand. As we walked down the hill after crossing with the assistance of an off-duty policeman who held up traffic to allow our passage, perfect strangers enjoyed lively discussions about which were the best acts. My favorites were the “Cossack” horsemanship segment, the humorous dog act, and the accomplished and very beautiful performance by the large troupe of Chinese acrobats, which I won’t describe, but that incorporated novelties that produced very beautiful effects.

Remaining shows are one more today (at 7:30 pm) and two tomorrow (at 1:30 and 5:30 pm). We always enjoy looking at the outdoor backstage and commissary area in the parking lot. It’s always a bit surprising how many of the performers do love their cigarettes. Today all of us watching were treated to a view of the performing dogs frisking around together. There are more expensive seats, to be sure, but those $15 bargains give a perfectly fine view. For those arriving early there’s a preperformance look at aspects of the circus that are a great treat for small children.

Cinderella charming

La Cenerentola will star the same cast for all performances (scroll down the linked page to read a little about the people who have made this production the wonderful experience that it is). See a show if you can: remaining performances are on Wednesday, November 12, at 7:30 pm; Friday, November 14, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, November 16, at 3 pm. All the singers are young and talented, and the staging is also a work of art. I hope that this conductor, Robert Tweten, will return for future productions. He and all the singers have a way with Rossini.

The conceit of the show keeps the music, sung in Italian and with projected supertitles in English, but changes the era and the place, to twentieth-century Hollywood. To aid in this, the translations in the supertitles take some liberties, but in truth the plot is the same as it has always been. We all know that story and this is just another variant.

Program notes place the setting in the ‘Thirties. It’s an eye-candy pastiche that doesn’t follow a fashion timeline terribly closely. We see everything from stepsisters wearing clothes that could have come straight from Mary Pickford’s wardrobe during the silent era, to flapper dresses accessorized with cloche hats, to a smart little tailored suit with a peplum jacket of the sort that many women wore as their best civvies during WWII and up to the introduction of The New Look. Some of the men are costumed in plus-fours, argyle sweaters, and other hallmarks of a gone-by era. Everyone, male and female, gets to sport entertaining headgear at one time or another.

There’s so much to praise that I’ll just report that the show was wonderful: musicianship with clear enunciation, a small but clear orchestra ably conducted, and everything about the staging itself, including sets, costumes, use of the chorus, lighting, and the wonderful choreography, which on a small but heroic scale was a tribute to Busby Berkeley

The Long Center commands one of the finest views of downtown. This photograph makes it look a bit like a set from a German Expressionist movie, but there’s more to it than that. We noticed a light sculpture meant to be walked on, and some kids were having a fine time trying to be the best predictor of the next color of the panel under foot.

Grown-up entertainment – Sinsational!

Sinsations 3rd Annual Erotic Carnival

Sinsations 3rd Annual Erotic Carnival

So, one of my good friends just emailed me and ask me to check a local store, I must admit I hadn’t been paying attention, and as readers will know, I’m always for “bigging-up” activities and businesses on South 1st St. I was delighted while checking their website to find out that this Friday sees Sinsations 3rd Annual Erotic Carnival. Honest, I did get an email from a friend asking…

As neighbors go, Sinsations are great. They are quiet, discrete, apart from the occasional car wash or throw down, not that I’ve been, honest. Friday sees the carnival start at 9pm at Red 7, on the 7th St. Along with some of the more predictable fare, such as the spanking booth(!), music will be from Mr Lewis and the Funeral 5. So theres a perfectly legit’ reason to go then.

Ok, must stop writing blog posts like I’m writing for the Benny Hill show… See you Friday, I’ll be the one there to watch the fire dancers. The entire event is a benefit for AIDS Services of Austin. All proceeds go directly to helping those living in our community with HIV/AIDS and helping to educate and hopefully stopping the spread of the disease. All artists and performers have donated their time and energy, and all prizes and gifts have been donated by local businesses to support their community. In turn, we ask that you support these performers and businesses for their generosity and graciousness!

Tickets, if still available, $15 presale or $18 on the door.

187th and Belmont

You didn’t have to grow-up in the Bronx or even have visited to get in the mood for Chazz Palminteris A Bronx Tale, on for two more nights at the Long Center.

I saw the show last night, having not seen the 1993 Film, I really had no idea what to expect. When I told one of my colleagues I was going he mentioned something about a mouse and kids, so I suspect he was even further off base than I was. Palminteri wrote the show back in the late 1980′s while unemployed, it’s supposedly a semi-autobiographical tale of his youth in an early 1960′s Bronx neighborhood but I suspect it could equally have been Chicago, DC, Boston, et al.

I really hadn’t been prepared for it to be a one-man show. Palminteri pulled it off magnificently, he moved from character to character with ease and pretty much seamlessly. After all, he’s been doing it for 20-years so he should. It was a engaging dialog about the stresses and strains of living in a working class neighborhood, that was probably more diverse then than now, and the on-off relationship between a son, his father and the neighborhood “boss”.

There is an interesting racial twist to the plot and Palminteri shouts out the N-word partially during a heightened exchange, which I have to say caused some rumblings down in the stalls at the Long Center, but I thought both the scene and the story line were in context with the times, as was the use of the N-word.

Palminteri managed to keep my attention for the full length of the show. Despite the fact that being up in the Mezzanine was more like watching an outdoor theatre in Siberia. It was freezing, I guess less than 64f. Since there are only two more shows, it would be well worth attending, but take a warm top!

It was my first trip to the Long Center since the opening w/e. It was a perfect evening to walk. They’ve got valet parking, there’s parking in the adjacent garage and traffic is carefully managed afterwards to keep the streets clear. Please don’t park in the residential neighborhoods, it may be only one night for you, it’s every night of every day for them.

My Links: NPR Interview with Palminteri back in 2007 on the Broadway opening of a Bronx Tale
Somehat whacky, but recent drive through of the show and 187th St. on YouTube

Hail, hail to piracy

Austin Gilbert & Sullivan Pirates of Penzance Only two performances remain, one tonight at 8 o’clock and one tomorrow afternoon at 3 o’clock. Today’s matinee performance of The Pirates of Penzance was dedicated to children. Even after a precurtain show of costume-making, balloon-twisting, and swordplay, most of the kids, some of them very young, lasted well for the entire performance.

The production puts a grand chorus of 18 singers on the stage, each capable of a solo turn, and a delightful and professional 15-piece orchestra in the pit. These shows are at the performing arts center at Crockett High, 5601 Manchaca. I’ve been to a performance there once before, but a long time ago. The acoustics best those at the new Long Center, if you ask me (not that anyone has!). Everything is audible and very natural-sounding.

The Austin Gilbert & Sullivan Society is an organization of volunteers. Generous gifts from stout local supporters pay for the orchestra, I believe, and many are those who vie for the featured roles. Those selected to fill them did an admirable job.

Even with all the small children there, which some (not I) consider to be a drawback, the house was nearly full. Buying a ticket at the door is very informal and refreshments are available. There’s lots to incite laughter and the many sentimental and affecting tunes do their work as well. Remember; it will be another year before the next big performance comes around. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy this one.

Plenty o’ somethin’

A feature on Porgy and Bess, as adapted and now being performed by the Zach Scott company at the refurbished Austin Music Hall, accompanied by a nine-piece orchestra, takes a prominent place on the front page of today’s NYT arts section (byline Ralph Blumenthal). This short run of two weeks only (January 25 – February 3), with six performances remaining has, according to the local daily, experienced some acoustical problems affecting those in selected balcony seats, but it’s promised that remedies are being initiated. Dave Steakley and members of the cast are quoted extensively. The print version has two photographs; the on-line version goes it better, with the better photograph in color and a couple of audio excerpts from the production.

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