Sunday, May 28, 2006

Les Miserables - 5th Avenue Musical Theater Company

Possibly the epitome of musical theater of our time, Les Miserables is the tragic and beautiful telling of a war-torn love story to a degree not reached by any other medium. It has been produced in countless forms and productions and locations. This production being one of them, and quite a powerful rendition, indeed.

Jean Valjean's escape from parole in nineteenth century France and care for the poor Cosette are all acts of repentance for his seemingly-minor crime of years ago. He is hunted through the years by Javert, the God-fearing, law-upholding officer. All the paths intersect in the French Revolution with the school-boy rebellion and tragic love story of Cosette and Merius.

This production requires an incredible amount of skill and work to complete in a manner as amazing as the 5th Avenue's production turned out. Had not the performers been as powerful and impressive as they are, they could easily have been upstaged by the lighting and stage design. David Hersey's lighting design is an amazingly impressive masterpiece. With his skill combined with John Napier's production design, the transitions are seamless and invisible. Sets change and disappear faster than anyone can notice that the stage has turned to hide the shift in the perfectly placed shadows. The use of darkness and skrims in this production make invisibility and true stage magic completely possible. The lighting and incredible mechanics of the set augment the show to a completely unbelievable level of excellence.

There is not one performer who can be singled out above another. There is also not a weak link in the cast. Randal Keith (Jean Valjean) has power and presence to be envied by any performer. His stage presence is immediately noticeable, even from the back of the balcony. His power is matched by Robert Hunt (Javert) which makes for a frightening and intimidating spectacle when the two forces clash together. Melissa Lyons' (Eponine) sweet and lovely vocal talent could sooth the most ferocious heart to a lovable cloud. Her presence is also absolutely undeniable. Anthony Skillman's (Gavroche) eight-year-old power is amazing. His power and talent will be seen for years to come on the professional stages of the world. Rachel Schier (young Cosette) will also be seen for years to come. At nine years old, she is already a force to be reckoned with.

This production is a must-see. The show's staying power will keep it around for years and years, but this cast will soon dissolve. Catch it while you can.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Miss Witherspoon - ACT

Who knew death could be so hilarious? Who knew it could be so frequent, either?

Miss Witherspoon deals with the ideas of the afterlife from an extreme array of philosophical and religious perspectives as well as the comedic genius of writer Christopher Durang. This production is one of the most tight-knit creations I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s an extremely complicated script and an even more complicated and convoluted plot. However, the actors and designers met every single challenge of every aspect.

Director M. Burke Walker has created an art piece worthy of envy. The way in which this production comes together and never falters is incredible. Along with the design team and the actors, Walker has used every resource of artistic ability to create an absolutely stunning show. Bill Forrester’s set design is outrageously clever and precise. The use of trap space and fly space and the absence of hiding space develop a world in which the audience can easily get lost. Frances Kenny’s costumes are also a spectacle to see. Though one may not realize it by the end of the show, the costumes are extremely fitting, exact and hilarious. The lighting design, too, by Rick Paulsen, is a world of wonderment. The fades and lifts mirror the exact feelings of the play and the audience remarkably well.

There is no way that one actor can be singled out from this cast as more memorable than another. Each and every character is as vibrant and full of life as the next and each next is more vibrant than the last. However, the load that Anne Allgood (Veronica) and Christine Calfas (Maryamma) carry is unbelievable. Their exactitude and skill is a gift that can, as with the rest of the show, easily be envied.

For all intents and purposes, this is easily one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. I apologize that I am posting this so late in the run. However, if you can see it before it’s close on Sunday, please do!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Other Jello - The Lee Center for the Arts

If it's an exploration of the human psyche through dance and some dialogue that you're looking for, then the Maureen Whiting Dance Company is the troop you must follow. To try to describe any of the scenes or actions of the performers would be impossible. However, the use of body was extremely impressive and the acting skill was equally precise. The use of the emptiness of the space was also very thought-provoking and the opening of the mechanical door into the whited-out scene shop brought forth a feeling of a great void and emptiness and yet a notion of completeness as well.

In short, this is a great company and a very fun show. It's short and sweet and a great watch. No top three, but a very fun show.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pippin - The 5th Avenue Musical Theater Company

What matters most: the brief but eternal spotlight or a content and simple life? The struggle between the glitter and glamour of the star's life and the simple but sufficient existence of humble happiness is ages old, even as far back as Charlemagne. As Prince Pippin, Charlemagne's first-born son strugles to find his way in life and his true calling, the world seems to be running away more and more with each day. Try as he may, he can't seem to stop the evil or even slow down his own life and take each day at a time.

Stephen Schwartz's (Wicked, Children of Eden, Godspell, etc.) progression and development as a writer/composer of musical theater is clearly seen and heard in Pippin. Traces of his other musicals, each more unique than most composers can accomplish, can be ever so faintly noted in Pippin. Though the story is confusing and disjointed throughout the play, the very last moment ties it all together in a very poignant finale.

This production sported an extremely powerful cast and production team, making it quite a spectacle. Tom Sturge's set and lighting are extremely precise and beautiful while the costumes of Bradley Reed nearly steal the show on their own. The fly-in set pieces and functional wall surrounding the on-stage orchestra gives the audience a feeling that their world and the world of the play are very truly melding together. Pieces such as the transitioning ramp and fly-in sing-along board bring the audience into the story deeper and deeper as it progresses.

David Armstrong's work in the past directing many shows with the 5th Avenue and other major theater shines again in his direction of this cast. The talent pool is ripe for the picking and his work with each individual shines through into the precision of each moment. Clearly, though, no director can go anywhere without the cast as her/his vehicle. Keith Byron Kirk's outstanding work as the Leading Player is captivating and enticing throughout every moment he's on stage. Mimi Hines's portrayal of Berthe is just as powerful and excitingly fanciful.

Aside from the obvious markers of a show's quality, the way in which Pippin fits into our modern world subtle, but powerful. The references to war as a game for men to gain glory and gold and the not-to-subtle and pointed references to sexual orientation and expression provide a biting commentary on our society today. Armstrong's decisions in this are very well-founded and well-thought-through.

Though not a must-see, it is an entertaining show. If you can make it to the end without getting too lost, it's worth the journey.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Verdi's Macbetto - Seattle Opera

The scene is set in… well, nowhere really. This English written, Italian composed and Scottish set play/opera in this production is placed in a timeless and homeless dwelling of frightfully occupied blank space. The story is still the classic Shakespeare and the setting is still alluded to Scotland in the libretto, but visually one feels more like the audience has been transported to Italy if anything.

The vocal talent in this production is incredible. Across the board, the singers were extremely strong and skilled. Gordon Hawkins, playing Macbeth, is an extremely powerful Baritone. However, his stage presence was non-existent. His still movements or lack thereof are very distracting and irritating. Andrea Gruber’s performance as Lady Macbeth is also wanting of some control. Vocally, she is a very powerful singing, albeit rather shrill and standoutish in the ensemble times. Her twitching at the end of every high note or song is also very overacted and distracting. The highlight of the vocal performance is clearly and undeniably Joseph Calleja as Macduff. His breathtaking tenor is captivating and his stage presence is phenomenal. His portrayal of Macduff’s pain at losing his children is clearly shown and felt by all. His high notes are not too high or harsh, but are appropriate and powerful. The rest of the cast is also extremely impressive.

Visually, the actors and singers were nearly upstaged by the lighting and set. Chris Akerlind’s lighting shows exactly why he was awarded the Tony for Light in the Piazza. The slow fades and color use is spectacular. The use of shadows in such an open space is magnificently impressive. One almost forgets how open the space is when the shadows cast are as distinct as they are. Bobby Israel’s set is the single most impressive piece of this production. The plain white walls and use of mechanical doors and opening hatch create a continuously morphable world in which this timeless production can be housed. The sleepwalking scene, though not overly impressive vocally or musically is stunning when the walls begin to bleed as Lady Macbeth recites her heinous crimes. There are many confusing aspects to the attire, however. Even though I know the purpose of the wedding and funeral dresses, I could not bring myself to accept the use of them. They seemed completely out of place and awkward. Otherwise, the uniforms and combined Italian, Scottish and non-specific costumes work very well.

The direction of this production is very well-thought out and precise. There are aspects of the direction that do not fit, however. For example, the killing of Macbeth at the finale by Macduff is extremely poorly done. To have Macduff shoot Macbeth when he’s already down is totally inappropriate.

Overall, this is a good show. It’s nothing that will rank in my personal favorites of all time; however it is a good show. If for nothing else, it is worth seeing simply to hear the beautiful orchestration and the powerful music of Verdi and witness the incredible design talent of Bobby Israel and lighting of Chris Akerlind.

Oyster - Mondavi Center

If you have ever had an interest in modern dance, Inbal Pinto Dance Company's Oyster is a show that you should find and follow. The obscurity and magnificence of the show are completely hypnotizing. There is not a moment of the show that can be called out above any other. Each section of the show - though it is really more of one cohesive unit than a set of parts - has a fair share of drama, comedy and skilful and humble spectacle.

Oyster is set loosely in a classic circus. The costumes allude wonderfully to this. A large theme of the show is impairity. A lack of arms, an extended arm, the inability to stand upright or even a giant with two heads who turns out to be nothing but two weak little men stack on top of one another.

The set, by Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak, is extremely simple at first glance, but becomes part of the dancers as they express their whims through movement. The Lighting, by Yoaan Tivoli brings the attention of the audience to wherever it should be mostly focused, but allows for the audience to notice and continue to focus on the more subtle activities on the stage. One of the more impressive aspects of the production is the costume design accomplished by Pinto, Pollak and Gila Lahat.

Overall, this is easily one of the best shows I've ever seen. It is simple, extravagant, and enthralling.

Bombay Dreams - Sacramento Broadway Series

Bollywood: The Hollywood of India. The dream of every child born into the slums. But how on Earth can any young person from the slums make his way into the films of Bollywood? It could only happen with the handsome and charming Akaash and some help from his friends Sweetie and Priya, the finance of the powerful Vikram and daughter of the film maker Madan.

This production of the fantastical Bollywood-esque Bollywood story is an extremely entertaining show. The sets, lights, talent and music will stick with you for days after the show is over. John McLain's lighting design keep the audience interested and captivated by the constantly changing but natural lights. Of course, the story by Thomas Meehan and Meera Syal allots for extreme changes in lights and sets that occur extremely rapidly. The story also allow for technically helpful moments. The set at two moments, sprouting a fountain in the center of the stage, soaks the stage with water. However, given the Bollywood movie set setting, this is easily remedied by stagehands who enter with mops once the scene is filmed.

The set itself is a spectacle. With the slums flying in and out of the stage and the frame of film set scaffolding, the stage is readily morphable from slums to set to balcony of a wealthy home and back again. The backdrops of skies and billboards are subtly extravagant.

Though some of the performance was lacking in a feeling of realism, it was, on the whole, very well done. The shining stars of this production include Aneesh Sheth as Sweetie, the Eunuch in love with Akaash, and Sandra Allen as Rani, the leading lady of the silver screen. Sheth's performance has the audience on the edge of each seat with his incredible vocal skill and Allen's stage presence is undeniably strong, yet reserved.

All-in-all, Director Baayork Lee's production is a remarkable achievement and a very entertaining show. Though it has it's issues in the feeling of truth behind the actor's performances, the vocal talent and the design of the production are very well done.