Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

The Sorcerer enthralls

The Sorcerer: Gilbert & Sullivan Society of AustinYes, it’s silly; yes, it will make you laugh. The Sorcerer is the current production of the Gilbert & Sulllivan Society of Austin.

A mysterious potion in a teapot causes upheaval in a country village. Love is everywhere but perhaps not always where it should be.

Not least among the pleasures is a full accompaniment for the excellent vocalists provided by the Gillman Light Opera Orchestra under the expert direction of Jeffrey Jones-Ragona: nineteen instrumentalists!

There’s no stinting on the fine chorus: ten men and ten women! The principal parts are sung by old favorites and new. Each is wonderful in his or her individual fashion, and there’s no justice in singling out anyone.

All are easily understood, thanks to the small auditorium with its excellent acoustics. There are, nevertheless, supertitles for all dialogue and lyrics. The libretto is available on line, but why spoil the story in advance if it’s unfamiliar? Keep the suspense. Read it after the performance.

Direction, costumes, lighting, set and sound design, stage business, and choreography are all just as they should be. We attended a performance preceded by an hour-long children’s program. Little children attended that and then stayed for the two-act show afterwards. The Sorcerer is truly a delight for audiences of all ages.

There are no bad seats in the house at the Worley Barton Theater, Brentwood Christian School, 11908 North Lamar. Remaining performances are:

Thursday, June 25; 7:30 pm
Friday, June 26; 7:30 pm
Saturday, June 27; 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 28; 2 pm

Ticket prices are most reasonable, from $7 to $25. The Sorcerer is a sparkling jewel, one not to be missed.

Don Giovanni: a disguished production

Don Giovanni: Austin Opera 2015If you miss the Austin Opera production of Don Giovanni (the May 3 Sunday matinee at 3 pm is the last live performance, with a KMFA live broadcast Don Giovanni beginning at the same time), you’ll miss a highlight of 2015 music and theater in Austin.

The music is always a delight to hear whether or not the opera is staged in such a fashion as to awake emotions and promote deep engagement with the plot. So many times, for example, Donna Elvira is almost a figure of ridicule; not so in this staging. The entire cast sings beautifully, alone and with other members; the sets and lighting are evocative and speedily set up for each succeeding scene so that no virtually no time is expended in waiting and so that the momentum never flags. All stage business is inventive, but never to the extent that outpourings of song are hindered. The singers are not just vocally agile; they are physically agile, to the extent that they appear able to enjoy second careers as acrobats and dancers. It would be unfair to single out any individual member of the cast for particular distinction: everyone sounded wonderful, as did the orchestra and chorus.

The Friday night audience was attentive from beginning to end; no departures were observed during the sole, brief intermission; enthusiastic applause lasted and lasted. Check on line for available remaining tickets for Don Giovanni (as low as $15 and there are no bad seats), and don’t forget the live broadcast. What a triumph!

The circus is in town!

Circo Hermanos Vazquez 2015Circo Hermanos Vazquez+ is smartly paced and choreographed and very beautiful as a spectacle. The costumes are not extravagant, but they are fresh and very becoming to the artists, who are of the first class. The band is live. The clowns are laugh-out-loud funny.

Circo Hermanos Vazquez is set up at Highland Mall through this coming Sunday, April 12, when there will be shows at 2, 5, and 8 pm. Monday through Thursday weekday shows are at 7:30 pm. On Friday and Saturday, the shows begin at 6 and at 9 pm. Tickets may be purchased on line; the box office is open every day beginning at 10 am. Discount coupons admitting a child under 10 accompanied by an adult with a paid-for ticket are to be found around town; there was a plentiful supply at Chango’s on the Drag. Doors open a half hour before the spectacle begins.

The popcorn (palomitas) was fresh; the beverage was Coca-Cola. Opportunities for souvenir photographs with the members of the circus are numerous.

Photographs and unedited videos give only the merest notion of what a very fine show this is, definitely a treat for all ages.

H.M.S. Pinafore: this saucy ship’s a beauty

This production of H.M.S. Pinafore captivates. The orchestra’s bigger and brighter than ever (19 members counted), and so’s the chorus (28 members counted). Both the men and the women of the chorus excel, and for once the men get to dance more than the women. The orchestra is bold and bright, a true pleasure to hear.

Austin favorites Holton Johnson, Russell Gregory, Janette Jones, and David Fontenot reprised starring roles to great applause; Gil Zilkha as the captain and Carol Brown as Josephine, his daughter, shone. We attended the Sunday matinee that was preceded by a one-hour program for young people. H.M.S. Pinafore held the attention of children for the entire performance. There was no difficulty at all in understanding the snappy lyrics, so clearly sung, but there are supertitles above the stage for anyone who may find them to be a helpful supplement to the performance.

This show is crammed with songs that are not to be forgotten. Most are jaunty and funny; some are a bit more serious and are treated so (for example, “Refrain, audacious tar”). Pinafore will make happy people happier and will brighten the darkest day.

Remaining performances are: Thursday, June 19, 7:30 pm; Friday, June 20, 7:30 pm; Saturday, June 21, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, June 22, 2 pm. All seats are reserved; tickets may be purchased on line for pick-up at the theater (Brentwood Chistian School, 11908 North Lamar).

Thank you, Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin!

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.

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