Precipice Theatre presents Tony winning farce LEND ME A TENOR this month

No photo description available.Winner of three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, Ken Ludwig’s farce LEND ME A TENOR is set in September 1934. Saunders, the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, is primed to welcome world-famous Tito Merelli, known as Il Stupendo, the greatest tenor of his generation, to appear for one night only as Otello.

When Merelli is unexpectedly incapacitated, Max, the Opera Director’s meek assistant, is given the daunting task of finding a last-minute replacement. Chaos ensues — including a scheming soprano, a tenor-struck ingenue, a jealous wife, an intrusive Opera Guild chairwoman, and an over-zealous bellhop!

Performances are at The Studio Theatre on 10-13 and 17-20. The theatre strongly recommends purchasing tickets in advance at https://centralarkansastickets.com/organizations/precipice-theatre

The production is directed by Heather Norris and assistant directed by Paul Seminara.  The cast includes Case Dillard, James Norris, Ricco Ardemagni, Beth Ross, Amy Young, Jennifer Walker, Anthony Nguyen and Heather Norris.

XANADU is magical fun

Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was never like this.  The god, goddesses, muses and mythical creatures that romp and skate through Xanadu are having more fun than I remember from my studies in high school and college.

Based on the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly flop of the same name (and lifting some pages from the equally floptastic Clash of the Titans) the stage musical aspires only to be a tongue-in-cheek, eye-winking, breezy, entertainment.  What the book, by Douglas Carter Beane, lacks in plot believability, it makes up with jokes and heart.

xanaduAs main muse Clio and her Australian alter-ego Kira, Courtney Speyer brings a light-hearted touch to the role. She spends most of the show on roller skates, which is no easy task.  Speyer charms not only her leading man but also the audience as she sings, dances and jokes her way through the story.

Kevin Crumpler plays the object of her affection. With bright eyes, a broad gleaming smile, and a cheery personality, he is an obvious match for Speyer. His pleasant and powerful singing voice is nicely used throughout the show as well.  Crumpler has a deft comic timing which was put to good use, especially in moments when Sonny’s dimwittedness and naiveté get the best of him.

Greg Blacklaw is equally at home as a harried businessman as he is as Zeus.  Though he spends more time as the former, the latter is actually fleshed out more by the book. Regardless, Blacklaw brings gravitas when necessary as well as a sense of nostalgia and longing to the roles.

Though everyone in the cast seems to be having fun, undoubtedly the two having the most fun are Amy Young and Gabi Baltzley as two scheming evil muses (representing tragedy and epic poetry).  They mug, leer, giggle, cackle, and chew scenery (Baltzley quite literally) as they sing and zing while throwing stumbling blocks in the way of the hero and heroine.

The cast is rounded out by Tye Davis, Adriana Napolitano, Bridget Davis and Brian Earles. These proteans zip between the 1940s, 1980 and Ancient Greece all the while singing and dancing. Earles had a cameo as Hermes that was both deadpan and saucy — not an easy feat.

Multi-hyphenate Justin A. Pike directed the show. (The artistic director of the Studio Theatre, he also designed the scenery and co-designed the lighting.) He kept the story going briskly without making it seem rushed. With the slight book, it cannot afford to drag lest the audience think too hard. Trusting his actors and audience, he doesn’t skip over the jokes in the book, but he also doesn’t hammer them home. This understanding of audience and of actors’ abilities are marks of his adroitness as a director.

Hannah M. Sawyer’s costumes pay homage to both Ancient Greece and 1980. Let’s face it, with flowing light fabric, there really wasn’t too much different between the two.  Sawyer creates a unique look for each muse in both color and style.  She also created attire which allowed a variety of movement. Her 1940s clothes were classic and avoided the temptation to be caricatures. On the other hand, her mythical creatures were over-the-top and the hilarious.

Bob Bidewell’s music direction maximized the vocal abilities of the singers.  The singers’ voices blended well together in the variety of vocal styles in this score.  This music from 1980 is not the strongest, which offers its own set of challenges. Bidewell and the cast succeeded in making it work on stage.  He also led the four-piece orchestra through Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s score.

Xanadu plays today at 2pm. It resumes performances July 16 to 18 at 7pm and the 19th at 2pm.  It is like a summer cocktail – frothy, light, a touch sweet and refreshing.

XANADU skates into Studio Theatre

xanaduThe 1980 movie musical FLOP Xanadu was reimagined as a stage musical in 2007 and became a surprise smash on Broadway.  It has now skated into the Studio Theatre for a summer run.

The bubblegum pop score of Jeff Lynne and John Farrar has been augmented by a book by Douglas Carter Beane. He combined the original movie story with a touch of Clash of the Titans (another early 1980s movie disappointment) and added a great deal of humor and campy fun.

Directed by Justin A. Pike, the musical features a cast of Courtney Speyer, Kevin Crumpler, Greg Blacklaw, Gabi Baltzley, Amy Young, Tye Davis, Adriana Napolitano, Bridget Davis and Brian Earles.

The creative team team features choreographer Sara Adams, musical director Bob Bidewell, costume designer Hannah M. Sawyer and stage manager Danette Scott Perry.  In addition to directing, Pike designed the sets and co-designed the lighting with Michael Goodbar.

Performances began on July 9 and continue through July 19.  Curtain time is 7pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday.

NINE a 10

imageOne would be hard pressed to find a stronger volunteer theatre production than the Studio Theatre’s current offering of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopjt’s Tony Award winning musical NINE. (The term “volunteer” theatre is used because “amateur,” “community,” or “non-professional” belie the quality of the production.)

Rafael Colon Castanera’s production is both visually stunning and full of surprises. The cohesive ensemble is up to the task of telling this compelling, complex tale in an entertaining and enchanting manner. They find the humor and humanity in these sometimes thinly sketched characters and scenarios.

The anchor of the production is James Norris as auteur Guido Contini. He deftly morphs from reality to fantasy while juggling numerous romantic conquests and searching for fulfillment. It is a challenging role because Guido is, at the same time, supposed to be worthy of the audience’s sympathy while also behaving in a unsympathetic manner.  Norris had many touching moments as the man-child desperately seeking something. A fearless actor, he threw himself into the role whether the moment called for romance, humor or desperation. These different moods are also reflected in the wide range of singing styles required of the role–all of which he handled skillfully.

As the younger version of Guido, Price Clark showed maturity beyond his years. His performance of “Getting Tall” at the end wrapped up the show as a lesson to the audience about the challenges and opportunities of getting older. Clark also had a wonderful rapport with both Norris (acting as a mentor to his older self) and Beth Ross as his mother (showing love, respect and embarrassment).

Ross was one of many in the cast who had the chance to showcase a wider range of their talents. Often cast in wisecracking roles, she here displayed a maternal warmth and daffiness as well as weariness and frustration. Likewise Julie Atkins often plays long-suffering, noble women. In this show she had the chance to show her comic skills and her bawdiness as an all-knowing spa proprietor. Often playing heartbreaking heroines, Erin Martinez zealously attacked her role as a tambourine-wielding unapologetically, earthy strumpet.

Antisha Anderson-Scruggs was audacious and bodacious as one of Guido’s mistresses. She was bawdy but never crass as she flaunted her sexuality. Anderson-Scruggs also displayed depth as her character faced disappointment with resolve and a new-found strength.

As another mistress, Rachel Warnick elegantly captured the persona of a classic European beauty who is no longer content with being a trophy. She was grateful and forgiving toward Guido, but resolute nonetheless to pursue her new life.

Mary Ann Hansen put the gal in Gallic as a gamine French film producer. She relished her moments in the spotlight and evoked a bygone era as she celebrated a past career (and joyously took the audience along on this reflective journey). Amy Young and K. L. Martin played her entourage; the pair enjoyably insulted, threatened and otherwise antagonized Guido each in her own way.

Elena McKinnis, Bailey Lamb and Moriah Patterson were a protean trio who functioned as a sort of Greek chorus (or was it Italian chorus?) playing various parts and keeping action moving.  Together with Martin, these performers showcased their dancing talents as showgirls during the musical within a musical numbers.

Heather Smith was Guido’s long-suffering wife. While clearly in love with him, she was also weary of her stagnant life.  A high point of her performance was her sung defense of him to the press in which she is convincing them of his sincerity, while also trying to convince herself.

As director, Castanera elicited layered performances from each of the actors and kept the action moving seamlessly.  As designer, he used a deceptively simple, classically elegant scenic design as a framework for the action. Tyler Herron’s transformative lighting and Greg Wirges’ evocative sound design reflected the many different moods and settings.

The orchestra led by music director Bob Bidewell played almost nonstop through this cinematic, nearly operatic production. This lush score has many moods which were ably performed without overpowering the actors.

The costumes by Castanera are almost worth the cost of admission by themselves. Each character was uniquely clad in black attire that reflected their character down to minute details. It is safe to say this show has the most intricate and lavish costumes of any volunteer theatre production in Little Rock history. For the “film” sequence, Castanera mixed some white in with the black and created fantastic, over the top ensembles (again often with unique and humorous touches). The wigs by Robert Pickens were the same quality as the costumes. Together, wigs and costumes helped define the characters without distracting from the actors’ performances.

As a musical, NINE has challenges. In the wrong hands the characters can be vapid and unlikeable.  It is also vocally demanding. Much like the source material (a semi-autobiographical Italian film), it has moments of absurdity and a plot which wavers between linear and concept. But NINE also has enormous warmth, heart and joy. The Studio Theatre’s production captures these merits without betraying the complexities of the characters. NiINE is another step forward in the development of both The Studio Theatre as well as volunteer theatre in Central Arkansas.

NINE continues April 4, 9-12 and 16-19. Performances are at 7pm except for Sundays, which are at 2pm.

NINE next at Studio Theatre

The 1982 Tony winning Best Musical Nine takes the stage oimagef the Studio Theatre tonight to begin a three week run.

Written by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, and based on Fellini’s autobiographical 8 1/2, it tells the story of Guido Contini, a filmmaker, and the women in his life.

This production is directed by Rafael Colon Castanera with musical direction by Bob Bidewell.  Castanera also designed the set and costumes as well as co-choreographed the musical with Bailey Lamb.  Tyler Herron designed the lighting and served as assistant director.  Robert Pickens designed the wigs, Greg Wirges designed the sound, and Cara Smith is the stage manager.

The cast includes Antisha Anderson-Scruggs, Julie Atkins, Price Clark, Mary Ann Hansen, Bailey Lamb, Elena McKinnis, K. L. Martin, Erin Martinez, James Norris, Moriah Patterson, Beth Ross, Heather Smith, Rachel Warnick and Amy Young.

Performances are tonight (an opening night gala), Saturday (April 4), April 9 through 12 and April 16 through 19.  Showtimes are 7pm on Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays.

 

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE continues at Weekend Theater

Beauty-Queen_smThe Lortel and Tony winning dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues its run at the Weekend Theater tonight.

Written by Oscar winner Martin McDongah, this play is set in the mountains of Connemara County, Galway, Ireland and tells the darkly comic tale of Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her early forties, and Mag, her manipulative aging mother, whose interference in Maureen’s first and possibly final chance of a loving relationship sets in motion a train of events that leads inexorably towards the play’s terrifying dénouement.

Director, Deb Lewis, explains that she chose to direct The Beauty Queen of Leenane because, “It’s a very intriguing story; it touches people on a lot of emotional levels. Everybody has experienced some kind of abuse in their lives . . . this play will resonate with people. Abuse is sadly pervasive, and my hope is that through this story people will be more aware of what’s going on.”

“It’s got love, comedy, violence, tragedy, sex . . . There’s everything in this show. ” Explains actor Tommie Tinker. “It’s like a dark, absurdist thriller,” adds actor Jacob Sturgeon. In summing up the play and the struggles the characters face, actress Amy Young says, “No matter how bad things are, it can get worse.”

The cast features Amy Young, Elizabeth Reha, Tommie Tinker and Jacob Sturgeon.

The show plays at 7:30 tonight.  It will also be performed on Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6.