Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Evening At The Theatre, "La Cage Aux Folles"

Chad and I saw the show last night and, I must say, this article is spot on. Ken Ashford gave a great performance as Deputy Dindon. As Cagelle Frita, Stephen Rayfield was also one to watch.

The Real Family Values of W-S Theater Alliance’s La Cage aux Folles

By Chad Nance
Photos by Matthew Lopina & Dancing Lemur
One of the absolute best aspects of life in Winston-Salem is the stunning quality of talent just free-ranging around to be discovered at unexpected moments. While solid productions and performances are the norm for the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance, nothing I’ve seen there before prepared me for the joy, the craft, the exuberance, and the passion of their 2014 production of “La Cage aux Folles”.
cast & crew
cast & crew
The production includes two of the best performances in a long run of strong work. Gray Smith as Albin and Chuck King as Georges give empathetic, moving, funny, and technically brilliant performances that manage to not only hold the stage, but also serve to support some amazing back up work by Tyler Carlson as Jacob and Dave Wils as Georges and Albin’s son, Jean-Michel.
The book, based on the French play and film series of the same name, was written by legendary LGBT activist and artist, Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.  It is a well known story about a gay couple, their love-struck son, and his moralizing, right-wing extremist future in-laws. What director Jamie Lawson and his crew accomplishes with Theatre Alliance’s “La Cage aux Folles” is significant, entertaining, and emotionally satisfying.
Gray Smith inhabits the role of Albin from his hilarious dramatics and deft physical comedy to revealing a heart that has been wounded and broken many times over the years. Albin is the raw nerve of “La Cage aux Folles” as well as acting as the musical’s conscience. Smith has a particular charisma in the role that makes the audience feel both Albin’s pain and his joy. (often within seconds of one another.) He is also more than believable as a popular Cabaret entertainer. Simply, when Gray Smith is on stage in this role it is hard to notice the other performers. It would be more difficult, however, if Smith were not such a giving performer. Not only does his Albin act out and bring the camp, he also listens and loves deeply. It is a bravura performance that will long be remembered for its power and grace. Gray also has an amazing singing voice and the ability to truly express hurt and loss while at the same time projecting strength. His First Act closing performance of “I Am What I Am” is absolutely magnificent and will send you into intermission deeply moved and completely hooked into the lives of these wonderful characters.
The generosity in Gray’s performance gives Chuck King time and space to do his more quiet work as Georges. King is able to make the middle aged night-club impresario’s deep and abiding love for his husband complex and believable. The role of Georges can be played as condescending to Albin or as an exasperated “straight man”. King’s performance is nothing of the sort. While there are repeated references to Albin’s personal sacrifices and efforts to raise Jean-Michel in a loving home, King’s Georges also lives in the service of Albin in a relationship that manages to be romantic, loving, and symbiotic at the same time. King handles all of the heavy-lifting and like Smith turns the cabaret scenes into an entertaining and seductive tour-de-force.
Dave Wils plays Jean-Michel with a soft enough touch that he never comes off simply as an unappreciative prick of a son. A character who could simply come off as a selfish pill instead becomes a three-dimensional human being that parents will recognize. This is a young man trying to find his own place in the world and finding that the constraints that our parent’s realities put on a child are sometimes difficult. In the end, however, Wils plays a loving and proud child who does not “accept” his parents (Georges & Albin both know exactly who they are and don’t need anyone’s approval.) he simply loves them with all of his heart.
Tyler Carlson’s performance as Jacob, the “butler” keeps the laughs coming so consistently that just his presence on stage signaled that something truly funny was about to happen. There is a clumsy sweetness and wicked humor to his performance that reveals a serious talent. Ken Ashford appears late in the second act as the right-wing Deputy Dindon. His physical comedy and willing to go all in for a joke is heroic and one of the funniest moments in the show is his Limbaugh-looking politician running headlong into a troop of transvestites. Charlena Cole’s singing as Colette and Danya Bray’s performance as the put upon Mrs. Dindon further feather this very ample nest of talent.
John Shea deserves special mention. His comic timing, gleeful perversion, and expressive face make his appearances as stage-manager Francis and Tabarro the Fisherman small studies in comic brilliance.
albin and georges
albin and georges
The entire crew of transvestite performers (Les Cagelles) are absolutely magnificent. Their performances are funny, athletic, and supremely entertaining. Rather than simply becoming a faceless group of dancers in drag each of the performers take the time to create a character that is an individual with real personalities and peculiarities.
Music Director Charlie Kurtz and his musicians were tight and skillful. Scenic Designer Thad Templeton and Stage Manager Jamie Lawson have a new gadget in their toolbox that allows them to block and stage “La Cage aux Folles” in a more complex way than past Theatre Alliance productions. A new proscenium, donated by Dr. Maureen and Bob Ihrie, allows for scene changes to remain hidden and provides the performers and director to focus the audiences attention directly to specific moments and bits that have sometimes been lost in the bustle of changing the sets between scenes.
Wig Designer Caitllin Malloy and Costume Designer Emily Mays do yeoman’s work on “La Cage aux Folles”. Some of the costumes and wigs feel like sets unto themselves and without the detailed and meticulous work what comes across as real and authentic. Their efforts make this production the most visually entertaining and exciting that Theatre Alliance has put on for some time.
In the end “La Cage aux Folles” is about family. Not the kind of family that is thrust upon us by birth and blood, but the kind of family that we chose because it is where our heart is at. This is a more authentic sense of family that is truly the foundation of any working, egalitarian community. The decisions made by the characters in “La Cage aux Folles” are sometimes selfish and sometimes heartbreaking. What keeps the darkness at bay and makes this production such a wonderful experience is the bass-line that runs through every word, song, and step?  Love.

An Afternoon At The Theatre, "Dirty Dancing"

Yesterday Chad and I headed to Durham for the opening show of the new SunTrust Broadway season. I was looking forward to the afternoon for a couple of reasons. As you can see by the photo, our seats are pretty much in the center of the first row of the Grand Tier. No heads to obstruct my view and the legroom is invaluable.

I was also looking forward to seeing Dirty Dancing. I loved the movie and was interested in seeing it staged.

It wasn't the cast. It was the book. The opening number was just...odd. Baby is in her room packing for the summer and then dirty dancing couples appear. Baby is mesmorized by them, walks around them in a dream-like stupor and I'm like WTF? There were several scenes that were just out of place and in no way moved the story along. Some of the projections were okay, some were just laughable.

While I liked it more than Chad did (I'm a sucker for any kind of dancing), we both decided that life is too short to sit through bad theatre. We left at intermission and ate a late lunch at Tyler's Taproom.

This is strike two for Patrick Swayze movies turned into musicals. Should Red Dawn, Roadhouse or Point Break ever be made into musicals, rest assured I'm not going to waste my time.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Do Crew: Moonlight Madness 5K and Fun Run

So it's been a while since Chad and I worked the Do Crew: Moonlight Madness 5K and Fun Run event. We were course cheerleaders in 2012. As you can see, for this year we were promoted to the beer station.

The beer was donated by Foothills Brewing. There was only one flavor - Strawberry Blonde. Most of the runners didn't mind. Some runners turned up their noses. I mean, come on. Are you really going to argue with free beer?

The guy from Foothills started pouring about an hour prior to the anticipated first wave of runners. I was mildly concerned that the beer would be 60 minutes warm, but then again, free beer.

As you can see we lined up the cups and then waited for the runners.

A Night At The Theatre - "Into The Woods"

Last night Chad and I attended the Final Dress/Preview performance of Twin City Stage's production of Into The Woods.

I have seen this show a couple of other times, though I must say that Twin City Stage's production is, by far, the best one I've seen. Yes, the performance was riddled with numerous and disappointing technical problems, but the quality of the actors, the costumes and sets allowed me to forgive the lighting, spotlight and mic hiccups.

Overall, the entire cast was very strong. There were two actors who frustrated me with their overacting. I felt the talent of Troy Hurst, who played the Steward, while effeminately funny, was wasted. I much would have preferred to see him in the role of Rapunzel's prince.

There were 3 actors who, in my opinion, gave outstanding performances.

(photo by Daniel Alvarez)
I'll be the first to admit, when I saw the cast list I cringed a bit at seeing that Sally Holmes Meehan had been cast as Jack's mom. I wasn't aware that she could sing and the only thing I'd seen her in, well, I wasn't at all impressed with her performance. From her first to final appearance she was spot on! Jack's mother can come off as a selfish, uncaring bitch. Sally played the role with the perfect amount of moxie and tenderness. Never did I doubt that she had Jack's best interest at heart.

(photo by Daniel Alvarez)
I've recently become acquainted with Sarah Jenkins. She ran lights and sound for our Saturday matinee performance of 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche and I spent some time talking with her during one of our cast parties. While I've not seen her on stage, I knew she was talented. (Not to mention smart and pretty!) I was blown away by how good Sarah was. It was such a treat watching her! She is a stunning singer and actress. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her Cinderella bloom.

(photo by Daniel Alvarez)
My favorite performance was that of David Joy. Now, I'll admit, I am a bit biased. Like numerous other folks in the Triad area, I've got a little crush on David. It's not just because he's handsome. He's a bonefide talent. He played both the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince in the show. Both roles made me shiver in delight; his Wolf especially. While I'm in no way a singer, I've never wished so hard that I could have played Cinderella instead of Sarah!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Write Up in the Triad City Beat

Lesbians, quiche and nuclear war figure in play

The women of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein come out as lesbians and reveal that they care more about quiche than Cold War brinksmanship.
by Kelly Fahey
How many lesbians does it take to fend off impending nuclear annihilation? What sounds like an offensive joke that could ruin a social outing is actually the main premise behind Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood’s satirical comedy Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, which finished its run with Winston-Salem’s Spirit Gum Theatre Company last weekend at the Community Arts CafĂ©.
The performance is set in an anonymous 1956 American town during the annual quiche breakfast held by the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein. The group’s central activity is the adoration and devouring of the most sacred of savory pastries: quiche. Their motto is, “No men, no meat, all manners.” That is to say, bringing a quiche that contains meat is highly frowned upon by the Sisters of Gertrude Stein.
Halfway through the quiche breakfast, all hell breaks loose when the greatest fear of the 1950s comes to fruition in the form of an atomic bomb dropped on their unsuspecting city by the relentless Russians. Luckily, Vern, played by Spirit Gum Theatre Company co-founder Caitlin Stafford, has gone to great lengths of preparation by installing a blast door and food rations to last through the nuclear winter.
Rather than lamenting the loss of everyone they’ve ever known or expressing terror over the fact that they are under attack, the sisters pine over the loss of all the wonderful quiches prepared for their annual breakfast.
In a fairly unexpected plot twist, the members of the Susan B. Anthony Society all decide to admit to themselves and their fellow sisters that they are, in fact, lesbians. At that time, they turned to the members of the audience, who were provided with nametags and included as members of the annual quiche breakfast, and encouraged them to announce that they were also lesbians, which they all did.
While this particular play is not very well known, it was a hit for the Spirit Gum Theatre Company. A friend brought them the idea while they were planning their second season.
“We read it and were laughing out [loud],” said Stafford, who is the fourth generation of actors in her family.
The production was small in scale. Only five actors made up the cast, and there were no set or costume changes. This lack of frills allowed the hilarious dialogue and acting to take center stage.
According to Stafford, the theater company had to turn to friends in the community to complete director Michael Ackerman’s vision of the production.
“Since we own very little in the way of set materials,” Stafford said, “we reached out to other local theater groups to borrow bits and pieces to make the whole thing come together.”
The Spirit Gum Theatre Company was founded by Stafford, Ackerman and Rene Shepard, who is taking a short hiatus as her first child is due in a few weeks. They met through performing in plays at Stained Glass Playhouse and Twin City Stage.
“When the three of us hung out as a trio, something clicked. We decided to read some scripts together and Spirit Gum was suddenly born,” Stafford said.
Although Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche was a small production, their modest theater company has grown considerably since being founded in June 2013. Their first show, A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, consisted of only the three founders, with Shepard and Stafford acting and Ackerman directing.
“I think we had an unspoken understanding that if our first show was a complete flop, we would have said we had a lot of fun and moved on, but it was a success and it motivated us to keep moving on,” Stafford said.
While Shepard is on hiatus and Ackerman takes time to train his new puppy, Stafford will continue to participate in productions in Winston-Salem including Into the Woods at Twin City Stage and Night of January 16th at the Stained Glass Playhouse until she directs Spirit Gum’s Next Production.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hall and Oates

Ken purchased tickets a while back and asked me if I wanted to go. We were right in the first row. I was afraid it would be too loud, but it was awesome!

You'll have to excuse the poor quality of the photos.

Destination Do Crew: Make A Wish Picnic in the Park

This is my favorite Do Crew event, which is why I usually sign up to be project lead. 98.7 Simon and Pepper Moon Catering team up for a fundraising event for the Make-A-Wish foundation.

For a mere $.98 you can get a hamburger/cheeseburger or hotdog and a bag of chips, an apple or banana and a bottle of water. And I must say, the cheesburgers are fantastic. It's another reason why I volunteer to work this event!

Simon plays some kickin' music. Today was a bit overcast, but usually the day is bright and sunny. I love meeting all the folks getting lunch and helping out a great cause.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Spirit Gum Cast Facebook Teaser

(photo by Caitlin Stafford)
Cheryl Ann Roberts simply "kaaaaaant" wait to make her debut with Spirit Gum Theatre, even though she does not have the same ravenous appetite for quiche or "quiche" (Wink, wink.) as her character Ginny does. (Sorry, ladies!) She would like to thank her family and friends for their support.

Monday, September 01, 2014

2014 Goals - August Update

Here's how I did with my goals for August.

See a minimum of 5 Broadway shows  (completed June)
  1. If/Then (June 12)
  2. B ullets Over Broadway (June 13)
  3. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (June 14)
  4. Violet (June 14)
  5. Aladdin (June 15)
  6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (June 15)
  7. Heathers: The Musical (June 16)
Read 60 books for my Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge
- I read 6 books toward my goal this month:  Believe, Second Star, Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched, The Architecture of Loss, Pronoun, and Allegient

- This brings me to 60 books read and this completes my goal!

Read 3 books off the BBC Reading List
- Gah! 

Attend 3 Festivals (completed July)
  1. North Carolina Wine Festival (May 24, Clemmons)
  2. North Carolina Blueberry Festival (June 21, Burgaw)
  3. North Carolina Blackberry Festival (July 12, Lenoir)
- This goal is completed! 

Travel somewhere I've never been
- I need to get hopping on this one.