Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category
In the midst of the embarrassment of riches jcm partook in this year, above all, it was the year of the art song, “Hasa Diga Eebowa,” and contemporary american opera (and THIS without even having seen Moby Dick ;-(. This was particularly good news for art song and american opera, as it’s more the norm to bemoan their demise these days.
In capturing the highlights of the year, the performance and production were weighed most heavily, but in the case of new material, the script and score were of course considerations. Oh, and who can help some personal biases slipping in? Not jcm (ie: West Side Story = the greatest show ever written)! SO, here goes…
1) Sandrine Piau, (Susan Manoff, piano) CalPerfs, Hertz Hall
It was as if a gentle, gamine spirit had landed for just an hour or two, gracing us with her rare magic. She left us transfixed, susceptible to the whims of her potent storytelling. The program was studio-ready in its refinement and attention to detail, yet never bland or white-washed. She uses her lyric instrument to full advantage, painting a broad palette of tones and expressions. The very satisfying program featured french, german and english sets of Fauré, Bouchot, Chausson, Mendelssohn, Strauss and Britten, followed by a generous set of encores: “Voyage a Paris,” “Clair de lune,” and Strauss’s “Madchen Blumlein.”
Karina Gauvin, (Michael McMahon, piano) Weill Hall at the Green Music Center
The Bay Area has been given a great gift in the form of the new Green Music Center. In structure it is reminiscent of the great Musikverein of Vienna. It is nearly all wood, which is visually rich, and acoustically perfect. In a word, intoxicating. This was the inaugural recital of the hall’s vocal series. They programmed very well, especially as Karina’s Bay Area appearances are rare. Highlights included: “Le Printemp” by Hahn, “Phylidé” and “L’Invitation au Voyage” by Duparc. For her encores, she performed Weill (ie: Weill Hall) and the Scottish “Ae Fond Kiss.” The latter was deeply satisfying. Her english diction is stunning, and her textual delivery particularly soulful. On a personal note, her sister and mother were in the audience, just a few rows in front of me. She shared that this was the rare performance they were able to attend, and dedicated a song to her sister. A special night indeed.
2) The Book of Mormon, National Tour, Curran Theatre
It takes you by the balls, and won’t let you go. I’ve rarely seen the kind of go-for-broke commitment from a cast as this. 21 year-old Grey Hensen, who played Moroni and Elder McKinley, as well as Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham stole the show. I live for Gavin Creel, but oddly he seemed not to embody the role as much as to act it. Surely he’s settled into it by now, or will fully by its UK West End run. The first 20 minutes have to be the most perfectly crafted portion of almost any Broadway show I’ve seen LIVE. You know…those laughing-and-crying at the same time moments? The vocal power in the ensemble numbers was very impressive. Having an 8 year-old behind us in the audience made the profanity and vulgarity seem even more raucous and saucy.
It’s time for my third annual Top 10 round-up. These don’t attempt to be comprehensive reviews…but rather an Amuse-bouche of the most stellar performances I witnessed by the Bay, in ’11. How in the world can I compare a Pop Star to a Handel opera, you ask? Well…I warm up the jcm-ulator, and out come the tabulated results. It doesn’t lie. I seem to be trending towards opera, with musicals taking a back seat. Why? They sing louder, higher and without mics?
1) RING Cycle, SF Opera details
With the carefully crafted characterizations of a stage play, this Cycle was a well-deserved hit and had the city abuzz with Wagner. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde was an utter triumph, equal parts true Wagnerian and singing actress. Stunning SFO leading role debuts were offered by Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, and Daveda Karanas as Waltraute. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Francesca Zambello’s concept was fortunately not too heavy-handed, largely staying out of the way of the story and score…more often informing it, and only periodically misstepping. I found the Industrial Revolution concepts throughout Das Rheingold to be the most iconic and potent. However, the mythic Die Walküre was the emotional highpoint, featuring the burnished, virile tenor of Brandon Jovanovich’s Siegmund. Siegfried was also surprisingly engaging. I had the good fortune of serving as Super Captain and Supernumerary in Walküre and Götterdämmerung.
2) Stacey Kent, Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel details
I fell in love with her voice three years ago. After stalking her tour schedule for a Bay Area performance, I got to experience her art live at last. She’s a real pixie…a gentle spirit, with a frail flutter to her vibrato. She completely transported me and her audience, casting a convincing spell. Her palpable, loving connection to her band leader, sax player and husband Jim Tomlinson added to the glow. She embodied “less is more,” drawing us in, rather than overworking her numbers in a too extroverted manner. Her set included lots of brazilian and french songs unfamiliar to me, some off her just released album. Come back soon Stacey!
It’s that time again! I’m serving up my second annual Top 10 LIVE Performances of the year. It’s a follow-up to my ‘09 list. Sadly, there are no Broadway shows on this list. I plan on remedying that in 2011!
1. Die Walküre, San Francisco Opera (Details)
This production offered one of the finest casts that could possibly be assembled for this opera (and The Ring) in the current operatic landscape. The production said some new things, and offered a few fresh perspectives, but didn’t try too hard, or overshadow the score. Maestro Runnicles is a Wagnerian master, and he and the orchestra rose to the occasion again. Yeah, I was a “Supernumerary” in the production, but I was able to watch much of it from the orchestra during rehearsals, and even accounting for my bias, this would still takes my top spot. Enjoy my full review here.
2. Scalpel! The Musical, Brava Theatre (Details)
Can you say fun? It had me at the opening number, with countless heals and drag runway walks. It was the first show I’ve seen in the Brava, and I immediately loved this venue…the warm lighting, the urban ambience, and the straight, raked seating offering direct views. Even with all the camp and hijinks, the entire cast was completely committed to the material. This was the second mounting of the show, and my fingers are crossed that it returns yet again. Apparently, there was a bit of a curse on the production, with multiple cast injuries (including a very unfortunate broken leg for leading man, Mike Finn), but they pushed through, with some quick and fortuitous replacements and prevailed. Picturing Sara Moore as “poop-raking” TV reporter Kitty Kelly (“Hardballs” host) still makes me laugh.
3. Heidi Melton: Salon at the Rex, The Rex Hotel (Details)
To hear Heidi Melton plead in spoken french AND debut her chest voice was alone faint-worthy, and positively scintillating. And, to hear her in repertoire much outside her core operatic rep and comfort genres was a treat (ie: Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill cabaret, and Korngold songs). Her rendition of Berlin’s “Always” left not a dry eye in the audience. (Her Noe Valley Chamber Music Recital a few weeks before was also very beautiful). No thanks to the Adler “Future is Now” concert, which was on the same night, the recital was over all too soon (evidenced by a jcm quotation here and here)! I stuck around and imbibed and dined at the bar…I wanted to savor the spell Heidi had cast.
Coincidence or Trend?
Being a performer and actor can offer an amazing glimpse into the self. Not only does one get to unlock and explore parts of oneself that were dormant or only in the subconscious, thereby evolving one’s own sense of self, and actual self. But, it can also reveal how one is perceived by others, and more simply what one’s “type” is. Typecasting is of course when one’s dominant or determined traits are used to pigeon-hole one into a certain character type.
I recently spotted a compelling coincidence in my casting and performance history in recent years. Time and time again I’ve walked into auditions with one role that I felt I wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t get, and time and time again that has been THE role I HAVE landed. But, with my current role (and three in the past), this coincidence became recurrent enough to emerge as a clear pattern or trend. I wanted to dig deeper to understand it.
The Wouldn’t/Couldn’t/Shouldn’t Roles
First there was “West Side Story”, at Broadway By the Bay. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be a Shark, and although I dream of being Tony, I don’t have his requisite high notes in this life. So, I went down the list of Jets to decide which roles to target. I saw that Diesel was the Jet chosen for the fist fight with Bernardo, and immediately scratched him off my list (along with Baby John). I felt that would require someone bigger, more muscular, more imposing than me, as he is the “toughest of the gang”.
Then there was “Into the Woods”, at Ray of Light Theatre. I targeted Rapunzel’s Prince…the male “seconda donna“-of-sorts to Cinderella’s Prince. Cinderella’s Prince is dashing, charming, the epitome of straight masculinity, and felt it was probably all a bit too much to live up to. I was also open to the smaller role of Steward (or, “Stew”, as we liked to call him).
Next was “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, also at BBB. I wasn’t interested in pursuing the leading role (Adam), but was game for any of the seven brothers…well, except Frank (aka “Frankincense”), because I saw that he was prone to fighting, and just generally prickly. That wasn’t me, I thought. I’m calm, easy-going, a “good guy”, more of a follower, and team-player.
Most recently, I auditioned for “Hair”, at ACLO. I decided on a different strategy this time…to mark no specific roles on my audition form. I felt that I’d been seemingly so off in targeting the role(s) best suited to me that this time I would leave it up to fate, the spirit, the casting director…anybody but me. However, I was VERY close to writing down just Woof, Claude, and “Tribe”. That’s right, I would have left off Berger, because he’s a charismatic leader with a BIG personality, animal sexy, and a rabble rouser. Can you say high bar/triple threat?
Well, it’s obvious by now that I was cast as Diesel, Cinderella’s Prince, “Frankincense”, and Berger.
So, what did I uncover in this trend, and creating these characters that initially felt out of reach?
- On a superficial, purely physical level, I’m on the taller side of average height, with a full jaw and dark hair and eyebrows, which tips the scales in favor of being typecast in these sorts of roles.
- Getting under their skin allowed me to see the importance of exploring characters that are less obviously tied to my own temperament, and find deeper, more complex connections. From a psychological perspective, I haven’t been fully in touch with my “shadow side”, and the level of intensity and strength I can portray by drawing from it.
- Yes, there are roles that allow one to easily draw directly from one’s own well of life to create them, and on the flip side, roles that are simply outside of one’s appropriate range or reasonable reach…but, there’s a lot of middle ground for “stretching”. My personal “dial” for discerning this threshold seemed to be a bit off. Hopefully, I’ve re-calibrated it well to find my challenge/success “sweet spot”.
- Perhaps there’s some karma at work here? I think of it as somewhat comparable to this…Don’t you ALWAYS run into the people you’ve wronged or have unfinished business (in the least likely places, ie: a Safeway aisle)?! Or, if there’s something you need to learn in the world, doesn’t the universe always present you with an opportunity to unlock it? Each of these unexpected roles has done exactly that, and taught me that I need to walk into, not away from the biggest challenges that scare me most.
- I need to continue to believe more in myself and my abilities (YES, a lifelong journey), and aim my trajectory upwards.
I still fondly recall one of my previous director’s character metaphors. He encouraged me to consider Bruce Lee, who embodied strength with a compact frame (albeit, a RIPPED one!), and through nimble movement, and cunning.
As to whether I met all or enough of the demands of any or all of these roles, well…I leave that to the audience to decide. And, I’m not even touching on how the variable of ability (ie: singing, dancing, acting) also plays into this equation. That’d require a novel.
I’m thankful that theatre has offered me this sort of enlightenment. I look forward to being in touch with the greater breadth that shedding my own self-imposed limitations on “type” allows. Perhaps you can identify ways in which you set up wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t barriers for yourself?
In his weekly online Music News column, Janos Gereben, at the San Francisco Classical Voice, “The Go-To Place for Classical Music in the Bay Area”, just posted the following editorial. It provoked quite a bit of reaction: both laughter and debate. I posted a response to item 3, which in turn elicited further banter. See my comments below, and other’s responses at the bottom of the Music News link.
Polite Suggestions for Audience Behavior
Benedict Nightingale, theater critic of the Times of London, pulled together the top 15 rules of etiquette, and we offer just eight of them it would behoove concert and opera audiences to observe:
* Never whisper, let alone talk, during the performance. Don’t hum along with songs, even if they’re by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
* Always apologize if someone is forced to stand as you make your way to your seat, but if you are late (and you should never be) reduce your apology to a quick, sorrowful nod.
* Don’t clap actors’ entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause. All this is dated and naff and makes you look like a celeb-hungry prat.
* Have nothing to do with standing ovations unless a performance is close to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In America such ovations have become meaningless and, if they don’t occur, they indicate disapproval. We don’t want them to become regular here.
* No need to dress up, let alone wear dinner jackets and evening gowns, as was once the case. But try to be a little better dressed than the critics, who often look as they’ve been grabbed from a washing machine that hasn’t yet been turned on.
* If you see a sleeping critic don’t necessarily wake him or her up, as guilt is likely to ensure that his or her review is more favorable than it might otherwise be. But don’t let him sleep too deeply or he may (and this has happened) crash into or across an aisle, causing injury to the innocent.
* If critics irk you by scratching notes on a pad, be forgiving. They’re only doing their jobs. And virtually all critics accept that lighted pens, once common, are now verboten. If you see a critic turn one on, whisper something tactfully germane, like “you blind sod, switch it off.”
* If the child you’re bringing is chatty, gag it. If it’s fidgety, handcuff and shackle it. And if you’re altruistic enough to bring a school party to a Shakespeare matinée, threaten potential wrongdoers with tickets to the next revival of Timon of Athens, to be followed by a ten-page essay on the ethics of Apemantus.
jumping clapping man says:
June 30, 2009
“Although the “Polite Suggestions” are clearly as much tongue-in-cheek as they are real, I wholeheartedly disagree with item 3: “Don’t clap actors’ entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause.”
In Netrebko’s 3rd performance of Traviata at SFO she got some applause as she sexily lifted her leg in the back seat of the 1929 Chrysler, and made her first stage entrance. I thought it was an appropriately quick nod to a much loved diva returning after a too long hiatus, and given the glamour of her arrival, via limo, in the right, festive spirit (she is, after all arriving at a party).
I always crave a bit of the unabashed audience passion shown so overtly at La Scala, and even at times at Salzburg (ie: disgust at Mortier’s “Fledermaus”, in the form of whistles and storming out of the house). A too polite audience is also a dull, status quo one. I want electricity! No, I don’t want lots of music or singing to be drowned out by applause, but supportive and brief applause can be a lovely accent to a vibrant performance…and a lovely nudge to a diva/divo from a knowledgeable and appreciative audience to really “bring it”! Don’t we want at least a dose of the unhinged adoration and excitement of the Golden Age? Well, the audience plays a role in that as well.
The beginning of the live recording of “Scuoti quella fronda” (the Flower Duet from Madama Butterfly) by Price and Horne, from their LIVE from the Met concert is accompanied by an enthusiastic outburst of applause from the audience. I have become so used to the performer/audience connection reflected in that recording that I always miss that when I hear another rendition of the duet. Yes, it was a concert, not a full stage production, but it really ignited the moment.”
I am thankful that the stars (and planets) aligned to make it so. First, I rediscover my love for the song Where Do I Go?, and purchase the music to prepare it for my music ministry at church. Second, an inspired new Broadway production opens on March 31st. [Enjoy a rehearsal video of Aquarius.] Third, my beloved niece and God-daughter catches the bug, adopting the show as one of her favorites, and embracing it’s milieu (a gal after my own heart).
Finally, to top it all off, after years of talking about HAVING to perform in the show, I discover that the local theatre company ACLO is putting it on in the fall, and thankfully get cast (the details of my exact role are still being ironed out in callbacks). I have had a blast doing a variety of shows over the past 5 years, and many have been great growth opportunities, but not since I was in West Side Story at Broadway By the Bay in ’04 have I been in one of my Top 5 shows!
Our production runs September 12 – 27 in the historic Kofman Theatre in Alameda, CA. And, I’ll have the privilege of seeing the Broadway production on August 2nd, hopefully with all the current cast members.
My love affair with the show seems to have really gotten going in ’89, when I attended a CCM production, at my University of Cincinnati. I had just graduated from high school and was a freshman in the College of DAAP. The show knocked me over. It was one of those truly life-altering experiences, where you feel your very fiber is transformed in some way. I had plenty of insecurities back then, particularly about my body. This show gave me permission to strip those away, embrace the gift of my body, and celebrate it. It was as if a huge layer of fear had been pealed away. Of course other layers still remained, but this was a huge step in the right direction. To this day, I can remember how effective the charming but forceful Sam Samuelson was as Claude (I had seen him as a fantastic Joseph there too), and how Beth Blankenship embodied the mother-nature-scaled presence required for Aquarius, with her rock-solid belt and larger-than-life persona.
I spent countless all-nighters in my home studio working on graphic design projects, singing along with the Broadway soundtrack (White Boys, Walking in Space, Sodomy, and Easy to Be Hard were the most overplayed). The original Off-Broadway production opened in October ’67 at the Public Theater. It was then overhauled and moved to Broadway in April ’68. Enjoy an exhaustive history of the show and all its deets on Wikipedia, or this tribute site.
My roommate in my first West Coast apartment in Noe Valley (’93) proved to be the Kathy Bates of Hair fan-dome. He had at least 25 international Hair record albums…in German, Spanish, and seemingly endless languages. Enjoy this excerpt from an eccentric Hebrew production. The ’05 Actor’s Fund benefit recording provided a much needed fresh take on the musical. Although the album is not spot-on, it included one of my favorite new artists Jennifer Hudson singing a soulful rendition of Easy to Be Hard. A VERY unlikely Sheila, she nevertheless delivers a great (although a bit too slow) “studio” version.
The new Broadway production features the finest male musical theatre performer of his generation, Gavin Creel, as Claude. This performer can do no wrong, in my mind. I discovered him via the Broadway cast recording of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Honestly, I would never have imagined him a candidate for the role of Claude, as his ultra-tender tone, and tendency towards pop-inspired melismas don’t seem like an obvious choice for this fresh-off-the-farm character. But, I’m thrilled such a great artist is engaged in such an acclaimed production, and now nominated for another Tony! This video shows him in beautiful form in more familiar territory.
The show explored the prominent themes of the hippie movement, and ‘60s: race, drugs, nudity and sexual freedom, pacifism and environmentalism, religion and astrology, literary themes and symbolism. Theatre writer Scott Miller explained why the movement embraced these themes:
“Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again…. [Long] hair was the hippies’ flag—their… symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song “My Conviction”). It symbolized equality between men and women.”
These themes brought about much controversy, in their divisiveness. A Mexican production survived only one performance, and was shut-down by the government for being “detrimental to the morals of youth” (Wikipedia). Claude, in essence, battles out the opposing moral sides of the primary love vs. war dilemma of the era, in having to decide whether or not to resist the draft, as his friends had.
The original Off-Broadway productions did not have the oft-discussed nudity. But, all “twenty seconds” of it were integrated by the new director Tom O’Horgan in its original Broadway reincarnation. The concept was “inspired by two men who took off their clothes to antagonize the police during an informal anti-war gathering” (Wikipedia). The familiar controversy over this nudity has reared its head yet again. The verdict is still out on whether our ACLO production will include it, or not. Apparently, concerns voiced by the school that owns the theatre may put a kabbosh on it. For some cast members that will provide relief, for others disappointment. We shall see!
I was shocked (and tickled) to discover this telegram from the legendary diva Callas, to the original Broadway cast. Who in a million years would have pictured her in that audience? Not moi!
Amusingly, Leonard Bernstein remarked that “the songs are just laundry lists” and walked out of the Broadway production. Perhaps the true freedom portrayed in the show wasn’t in his vocabulary and scared him, as he was a man that lived, in essence, a double life.
Disco diva Donna Summer appeared in a German production! She is shown here singing Aquarius.
In the coming weeks my role in the ACLO production will be determined. They are two roles that could not be more different. I can’t wait for more to be revealed, and to begin rehearsals!