Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Just three more shows

circusThe Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus gives one more performance today (7:30) and two more tomorrow (1:30 and 5:30). Every year it’s different and every year it’s great. This year is no exception. This is the blue circus, and for us the standouts were the Cossack horseback daredevil act, the Chinese acrobat troupe in various configurations, a dynamic chiffon act, and the funny and inventive entertainment starring a troupe of domestic housecats. Your favorites will be different. Nobody’s favorite was the performance of The Star-Spangled Banner by a style bandit taking off on Gloria Estefan as she was about ten years ago. There were more motorcycles in the globe of death than I’ve ever seen before. The before-circus open house shouldn’t be missed. It’s great for kids, with lots of close-up participation. This year the band’s housed aloft (percussion, electric guitar, two trumpets, a trombone, and a saxophone, plus all the synthesized stuff). The number of rings is one. There’s a videographer capturing live action details for the giant live screen. We like to watch the outdoor “back stage.” We saw the poodles from the dog act out running around every which way, watched the queue forming at the pie wagon, and were reminded once again that it takes a lot of cigarettes to keep those equestrians and acrobats going. Bring binoculars along for enjoying every tiny detail.

Ruddigore merry delight

RuddigoreToday was children’s day at the Ruddigore matinee, so we enjoyed seeing the kids perform a little onstage dance before the performance began (each Sunday matinee, and there are two remaining, will feature a program for children.). A 15-piece orchestra accompanied the principal singers and a strong chorus of ten men and ten women. Direction, stage business, choreography, and thorough musicianship and theatricality made this a real treat! This is the best production of Ruddigore I’ve ever attended. We are so lucky here in Austin to have such a delightful musical confection available, a labor of love by an army of volunteers. There were star turns, and the lead soprano (Glay-Marie Posch), new to the company, would grace any stage in any production. This year’s location couldn’t be more convenient. The views of downtown from high on the hill are spectacular in the daylight and even more so after dark. The auditorium at the School for the Deaf has been renovated and those who remember it in its past incarnation will be pleased to know that the restrooms have been enlarged. The acoustics are improved and the seats have been reupholstered. I don’t know whether this was just an attraction today or not, but there were painted portraits with head cut-outs and a photographer at the ready to memorialize the occasion. Light refreshments are available and so are souvenir tee-shirts. Remaining performances are at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays through June 23 and at 3 on Sundays through June 24. It’s not difficult to purchase tickets at the door. Thank you, Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin!

Update: Here’s the enthusiastic Chron review of the very same performance (first Sunday matinee of this run).

The Pillowman

Pillowman_program.jpgMy wife and I got out last night to see Hyde Park Theater’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Here’s the description from their site:

In this very black comedy indeed, a short story writer (Jude Hickey) must answer to the police when his horrifying–and unpublished–fictions begin to come true. And once the police (Kenneth Wayne Bradley and Ken Webster) question the writer’s mentally impaired brother (Mark Pickell), the story begins a series of startling twists. Austin Arts Hall of Fame member Ken Webster directs this edgy and enthralling evening that blends black comedy and mystery into one riveting tale.

The first section is nearly 100 minutes, followed by a 10 minute intermission, and then another 50 minutes. I say this not to scare you off, but so that you’ll be prepared. We honestly contemplated leaving at intermission (and a few did leave), but I’m glad we stayed as the second section really paid off. I’d also recommend leaving the kids at home. In addition to the length, this is a very dark play that deals with child abuse, torture and murder.

It’s a dense play that takes on a lot of different themes: storytelling and the affects that stories can have on their audience, child abuse and its effects, family relationships and censorship. Nearly all of the main characters tell a story at some point during the play, not just Katurian, the writer. The play itself is named for one of the stories told and the theme of The Pillowman is woven throughout in many different ways.

Ken Webster was recently awarded Outstanding Lead Actor for his
performances in HPT’s St. Nicholas and Thom Pain (based on nothing) at the Critics’ Table Awards and was the subject of an Austin Chronicle cover story. The acting from all of the leads, direction, set design and staging were all excellent. The sparse set adds to the Kafkaesque feel of the play.

I tracked down a review in the New York Times of the Broadway production from April, 2005 if you’d like to check out another opinion.

The show runs at 8:00 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, June 7 – 30, 2007.

Both sides of a love story

I got to see UT’s Plan II students put on “The Last Five Years” tonight and goodness gracious, I was very impressed. My best friend Brandon and I are pretty much obsessed with the musical by Jason Robert Brown- this would be our second time to see it. The first time we drove out to Abilene to see a production done for some reason that was attended by maybe, maybe 8 other people that night. But it’s the score that moves me, the lyrics are gorgeous but Brown’s score is just perfection.

Anyhow, we were really excited to see it, especially since they’d called upon a full ensemble for the band- a bass, piano, violin, cello, guitar- it was lovely. Robine Morrison shone as Cathy, once she got to the great, funny, meaty Cathy songs and she got to power through the glory notes Sheri Renee Scott beat into submission so effortlessly on the soundtrack; and Brandon Stackhouse was congenial and poignant to where I actually felt kinda bad for Jamie at the end, that jerk. Jamie, not Brandon. A very good show all around.

The show’s got one more performance on Saturday, its $5 at the door and you can read more about it here.

Spalding Gray: Stories Left toTell

My wife and I attended Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, part of the Paramount Theatre’s Spoken Word Series, on Thursday night.

It’s been just over three years since Spalding Gray’s body was pulled from the East River in New York, an apparent suicide. He had last been seen by his family on January 10, 2004. It’s thought that he jumped off of the Staten Island Ferry. Gray made a career of writing and performing monologues about his life and his neuroses. I remember him first in a small part in The
Killing Fields
. He also gave a memorable performance in the role of Mr. Mungo, the bachelor who commits suicide in Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill (it’s a travesty that it’s still not available on DVD). I lived in Manhattan in the mid-90’s and remember passing him on the street a few times. My wife and I saw him perform It’s
a Slippery Slope at the Paramount
in January 1997 and, if I recall correctly, I saw Gray’s Anatomy at SXSW Film that same year.

Gray’s delivery was such a big part of the draw his stories that I wondered how well a group reading would translate. It started out kind of rough. I found myself imagining Gray’s voice and delivery over that of the performers on the Paramount stage. They eventually settled in though and I found myself enjoying the material even though I’d heard some of it before. Unlike Statesman reviewer, Brad Bucholz, I preferred the delivery of Carmelita Tropicana over several of the others. Shawn Colvin did a good job and
Jonathan Ames made a respectable stand-in reading journal entries at Gray’s trademark wooden table. At first, I thought they might leave the table and chair empty as a place for Gray, but perhaps that would’ve been a bit too morose. I did like the way that they used the lighting towards the end as Gray’s last journal entries were read. A father myself, I couldn’t help but think of Gray’s two sons and stepdaughter, who he had late in life and the effect his suicide must’ve had on them. None of us is perfect, but
I just can’t fathom leaving my family to deal with such a terrible situation, especially since Gray’s own mother committed suicide when he was in his mid-twenties. Gray’s writing seemed to enable him to deal with the demons that claimed his mother, but a terrible head on collision in 2001 while on vacation in Ireland seems to have pushed Gray over the edge. The reading captured the bittersweet ending to a life that seemed to touch and hopefully enrich the lives of many people. There were more than a few tears
in the audience when the lights came up.

The Statesman has an interview with Gray’s widow, Kathie Russo, a review of the show by the interviewer, Brad Bucholz, and a slideshow of photos from the performance.

A royal party

Lucky me, I snagged a ticket to the Lion King cast party and dragged one of my best friends, Brandon, along for the ride.

They had it at Ringside at Sullivan’s, which is beautiful and high class- I will definitely go back. CUTE bartenders kept the drinks coming (baby’s first Cosmo!) and muy caliente Cienfuegos played through the evening. I’ve got to say, they are the best latin/cuban (pardon my ignorance as to the exact genre) band I’ve ever heard. I really loved their music.

The cast was really sweet! I met Ta’Rea Campbell- the actress who plays Nala, one of the boys who plays Young Simba, and the tutor who travels with the children. I told Ta’Rea and the tutor to hit up the shopping here, because there is no place like Austin when it comes to shopping…I said to check out SoCo, especially my favorites Goodie Two Shoes and New Bohemia. They’re going to be here for six weeks, they might as well drop some cash here and there!

The best part, though, was when I was watching the show beforehand and I noticed something familiar about Zazu. I thought I’d heard him somewhere before….sure enough, it was Tim McGeever, who had a wonderful stint as Mozart in St. Ed’s production of Amadeus awhile back. I was so excited to meet him, he’s so talented!

All in all it was a perfect night- a fantastic show, and a wonderful party.

Last Chance for St.Nicholas at HPT

Hyde Park Theatre is giving you one last shot at checking out St. Nicholas this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The original run was last November and there were several performances during Frontera Fest this month. I caught one of the Frontera performances and wasn’t disappointed. Ken Webster’s experiences in all aspects of theater (acting, directing, running HPT) inform his performance of a cynical Irish theater critic who thinks he’s seen it all until he meets up with a group of vampires. The dark comedy is engrossing with a minimal amount of lighting and set design. It’s all Ken and he does an amazing job. If you
don’t get out for much local theater (and, honestly, I don’t), you should get off your ass and check this one out.

This special return engagement runs at 8:00 PM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, February 22 – 24, 2007.

Thursday is Pay What You Can Night; Friday and Saturday tickets are $15 ($13 for students, seniors, and ACOT members). Hyde Park Theatre is located at 511 W. 43rd Street. For reservations call 479-PLAY (7529). Off-street parking during evening performances available at Kenneth’s Hair Salon and the Hyde Park Church of Christ.

The Stampede


My job just got a billion times more interesting. Not that it isn’t on any given day- it is, that’s why I love it, but this week’s been unbelievably hectic with Lion King loading in. There’s dozens of people working on it in various ways and this whole production, on our end and their end, has been tremendous to mount… but what a show.

Usually cutting through Bass from our office to the front of the house is quite peaceful. Bass is beautiful, with the lights in the back mezzanine cutting through the shadows like tiny stars, and the cavernous hall as still as a sanctuary.

Not so at the moment. Not even close.

FronteraFest 2007 and St. Nicholas

webster06.jpgFronteraFest 2007 kicked off last Thursday, a couple of days late due to the ice storm that hit early last week. KUT had a report on the festival on opening day.

You can check out all the details on their site, but here’s a quick rundown. The 14th annual fringe theater event is grouped into three sections:

  • The Short Fringe (25 minutes or less) at Hyde Park Theater
  • The Long Fringe (90 minutes or less) at Blue Theater and City Theatre
  • Mi Casa Es Su Teatro (site specific productions around town

The festival runs into February with the Short Fringe performances judged each week and culminating in a Best of the Fest week at the end.

I’m going to check out St. Nicholas, an entry in the Long Fringe. It’s written by Conor McPherson and performed by Ken Webster. Performances are Wednesday, Jan. 24th at 7pm, Sunday, Jan. 28th at noon, Friday, Feb. 2nd at 10:45pm and Saturday, Feb. 3rd at 8:15pm at The City Theatre, 3823 Airport Blvd. Suite D. Ken performed this piece last fall at Hyde Park Theater, you can check out the page from those performances and some links to reviews here.

Sweet Santaland

I have an in with a friend of a friend who’s dating a guy who knows a so-and-so and I’ve been getting to go to some shows at Zach Scott lately, and even though this is only my second one I’m just sold on it, really. I love Zach Scott. Loooooove it.
Ever since I’ve moved here back in 2003 I have wanted to see Santaland Diaries. It’s one of my favorite David Sedaris stories in one of my favorite Sedaris books (“Holidays On Ice”) and I had kindof a picture in my head of how the play was going to be done, and I was prepared…for something COMPLETELY different.
This was just excellent- first, they had the dazzling and deliciously saucy Meredith McCall sing us some songs to get us in the mood for some bawdy holiday fun, and then Martin Burke came out and performed “Dinah”, based on “Dinah, The Christmas Whore”; another story from “Holidays”. Martin Burke has a boundless, contagious energy that’s absolutely essential in a comedy cast of two, and this piece is perfect for showcasing that as he flows effortlessy through different characters. Then Meredith sang a couple more songs (far too few, I would love to have had more from her), including a song by Jason Robert Brown, which I was really excited about because I love him. And then the piece de resistance- Martin performed Santaland Diaries.
Santaland Diaries the story is pretty lengthy for a short story, especially one of David’s. Santaland Diaries the play, however, is a rapid-fire succession of anecdotes interspersed with zings! and jokes and one-liners. It is just hilarious. Martin has this way of interacting with the crowd like that one cool lady at Universal Studios who remembers you and waves as you go through the Terminator 3D show with your Dad for the eleventh time that day- he makes it feel less ike a theatre, less like a play, and more like the most outrageous story youve ever heard from your friend across a table at Schlotzsky’s. It’s a beautiful thing.
I think that comes out a lot with Zach- there’s an edginess in the production but a familiarity in the performances, you know? Even with Rocky Horror there was still so much audience interaction with Joe York you felt like you were trapped inside that mansion too.

Looooooved Santaland Diaries. Absolutely loved it, and it runs until January 7th so you have plenty of time to see it after you finally get rid of all those cousins :o)

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