Alliance Theatre

Terry Burrell spent many years researching and creating this tribute to the life of Ethel Waters, and it is quite a winner. Ethel Waters was born into poverty in 1896 in Pennsylvania. She knew she wanted to sing and be on stage, but couldn’t have imagined what joy and pain it might bring.

I am not a big fan of one-actor shows, as too many of them seem to get a bit boring. Not this one. The stage is set as a room in her home, and she moves around in it as well as the open areas; as she goes through many scenes without a problem. Ethel Waters had quite a life which included dysfunctional family, being married off at age 12, physical abuse, multiple marriages, and unethical treatment by associates and those who hired her to perform.

She kept on going and started on stage at age 17 when she was singing in Baltimore. In her 80 years, she won quite a few awards and was highly sought after for her talents. When she was working in black vaudeville shows, she was generally cheated out of most of the money which should have accrued for her. And, she lived through the days of terrible segregation in our land. Harlem was for the blacks, and not for the ofays nor the hoi-polloi. But, as we know, that did start to change during her days.

Terry relates her story as Ethel’s biography and weaves in 17 of the numbers which Ethel was known for. These include such standards at You Rascal You, St. Louis Blues, Dinah and Stormy Weather. She is backed up by Tyrone Jackson on the keyboard and Scott Glazer on bass. Kenneth L. Roberson directed the show and every aspect of it works perfectly.

I do know that this is not the only play about Ethel’s life and career; but it is the best I have seen. This woman was feisty, took on the big shots and wound up eventually winning. Most black performers in her days hard a hard time getting good agents. They were often booked through organizations which took unfair advantage of them. It was not so many years ago that there was a hotel near The Fox which refused to rent to blacks, and while many performed in Vegas they were often told to stay in trailers behind the hotels. We may have come a long way from those days but the trip to total acceptance and equality is still not reached. As we heard in South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” Maybe some of our politicians could benefit from understanding those lyrics.

Bottom line is that this is a very entertaining and thought provoking performance by an amazing actor who can recall almost two hours of words when most of us can’t remember what the date may be.



Kinky Boots

kinky boots
Kinky Boots
Fox Theatre
through April 3, 2016

OK, . . the show is kinky, but it sure is a hit and excites the audience. Based on a 2005 film, it is a musical written by Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, and it won a Tony for Best Musical.

The story line is about a shoe factory in Manchester UK which is in tough times as the manufacturing went offshore. The company is Price and Son, and the senior Price has just passed on, leaving the factory to his son, Charlie (Adam Kaplan) who had never really seen himself in such capacity and with such responsibilities. He probably will have to shut it down, liquidate everything and all those classic townies will be out of work.

Then he runs into a drag queen named Lola. Her masculine name is Simon and he/she is played to the hilt by J. Harrison Ghee. What happens when they meet is that, as Simon says, they can make money by designing high fashion footwear that drag queens will find helpful; in that most spike heels just don’t want somebody weighing in at 14 stones parading around in them.

Charlie convinces Lola to hang in with him and help design a line that they can then take to the big fashion event upcoming in Milan. The factory staff aren’t quite into the game at the start, but they have to get on the ball and get the work done, because the market just isn’t there for what they’ve been making for the past decades.

What really moves the show along is that Lola has a back up of a chorus line of queens called The Angels, and they just really rouse the audience. If you’ve never seen a drag show cabaret, this is the one to start with. The dancers look very feminine and you have to check their height and upper arm muscles to see the masculinity, as their packages are tightly closed. Some of the women in the audience felt badly inasmuch that the legs on stage may have looked better than their own. Hey, . . . that’s just the way it is.

An absolutely superb production with great costumes, live orchestra in the pit, and fantastic choreography. It’s one of those productions that is a couple of hours of pure entertainment. You may not leave the theatre humming any of the tunes, nor recalling the lyrics. But you will remember that you had one bitchin’ good night at the Fabulous Fox.

More info and tickets at FoxTheatre.org


Hail Mary!

Hail Mary
Hail Mary!
Stage Door Players
through April 17, 2016

Tom Dudzick, who wrote Miracle on South Division Street, also penned this work which has also greatly pleased most audiences. I say “most” because there remain among us those who might say”. . . don’t confuse me with the facts, as my mind is made up.”

We meet the five characters at Saint Aloysius School where Mary (Suzanne Zoller) is trying to get through to a class of youngsters. She’s not a nun, but she is sort of an apprentice who feels that it may be her calling. She works under direction of a tough Sister Regina (Ann Wilson) who believes that you may be entitled to your opinion but you are wrong. And she is unanimous.

There is a novice nun named Sister Felicia (Eliana Marianes) who is certainly not from the old school as is Sister Regina. She wants to be able to see the world not only as it may be, but as it might become. Set in current time, the underlaying issue is one of religion and whether a deity may have created man, or the other way around; and if there is an all-loving one, how do you explain the evils which make the nightly news on a daily basis?

Theo Harness is great as Father Stan. He may be wearing the dog collar, but he’s nobody’s tamed pet. He may be ordained but is not the cloistered type in any way. And the other gent in the story is the father of one of the students, named Joe (Jeff K. Lester) who would want to help Mary find her own path through life rather than follow some old map that may not be timely in our world today.

Dina Shadwell, directed the Miracle on South Division Street here, also directs this one, with a classroom set by Chuck Welcome. It may not appeal to those with strict religious doctrines imbedded; but regardless of one’s upbringing it will certainly resonate with any of us whose brains are still in working order and who are capable of seeing life on this planet as it is, rather than as it may have been; meanwhile keeping alive a sense of humor and hope.

More info and tickets at StageDoorPlayers.net


GSO Jazz

GSO Jazz
GSO Jazz
Strand Theatre

The Georgia Symphony small jazz band, took the stage on March 12th at the Strand Theatre on the Square in Marietta. This was not the big jazz band, but the six member type of band that you recall seeing in various clubs around town, or where you grew up, decades ago.

The concert featured the music of Billy Strayhorn, the gifted composer who did a lot of work with/for Duke Ellington. His career was cut short at age 51 by a cancer, but some of his many works live on.

The band on stage featured Mace Hibbard on sax, Trey Wright on guitar, Randy Hoexter at the keyboard, Tim Aucoin on bass and John David on the drums. Sam Skelton on his sax is the lead for the band, and they also brought on vocalist Karla Harris.

The music of Strayhorn may resonate with those who are true afficionados of The Duke, but probably the only truly memorable one that most folks will recall is Take the A Train, which he wrote relating to the way to get to Duke’s pad in Harlem.

But, the band did two sets with 11 different numbers and they play in the time honored classic jazz combo manner, where after the opening, each member of the band gets to do his own riff.

The concert was very energetic and everybody left with a smile on their face. Next time around, when they play at The Strand, take an easy ride to the Square, free parking in municipal garage across the street and plenty of places to chow down before and after. Keep up with the GSO at their site: GeorgiaSymphony.org


The Revolutionists

The Revolutionists
7 Stages
Through March 20, 2016

Local playwright Lauren Gunderson has crafted this play which is totally different from Silent Sky of I and You; in that while it deals with life from a woman’s point of view it is rife with comedy against a background of riotous stress.

Ms. Gunderson is quite a researcher. And she told folks how she had been on a visit to Paris when she read about a feminist during the days of the revolution. Her name was Olympe de Gouges, and she was actually a playwright who lost her head shortly after Marie Antoinette lost hers.

The show is a long 105 minute one act production directed by Heidi S. Howard and performed to perfection by four extremely talented actors. We first meet Madame de Gouges (Stacy Melich) who is thinking about where she is going with a play, and having some writers cramps along the way. She is dressed to the nines, as is each of the actors.

She is hanging out with Marianne, (Parris Sarter) who has moved to Paris from the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue, which we now know as Haiti. She stands for equality for all; based not only on sex, but race as well. For as hordes of revolutionaries marched to the barricades demanding equality, they seemed to be ignoring the fact that France was enslaving blacks in the colonies.

Rachel Frawley enters the scene as Charlotte Corday, the conservative who had issues with the famed Dr. Jean-Paul Marat. Marat was the outspoken physician who penned so many of the pamphlets which helped to inflame the revolt. Charlotte, plans to off Marat but wants a catch line for her work; as she expects she will mount the platform for the Guillotine soon after her deed be done.

And, of course this would have to have the egocentric Marie Antoinette, played to the hilt by Park Krausen. Even in the days before Kermit, she could tell you that it isn’t easy being Queen.

What is so impressive is how this work weaves in the actual history of events while bringing out the needs of women in those days of yore. And when we look around the world in our time, it seems that the French may be quite right when they opine “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

They’re playing at 7 Stages, on the black box stage and to sold out houses, so grab your seats while you can, for it’s a winner. Visit the website at 7Stages.org


Into the Woods

Into the Woods
Into the Woods
Aurora Theatre
through April 17, 2016

Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and based on James Lapine’s script hit the stage about 30 years ago, and has played around the world since then with some adaptations and has won loads of awards. And in 2014 it came out as a film and grossed a bundle more.

The Aurora Theatre is VERY good when it comes to producing musicals and this is no exception. The show runs almost 3 hours with one intermission. And, the set is unlike any I have seen for this show before. They start off in a library where a young lad (Evan Jones) starts the narration of this blend of several fairy tales.

With a large cast of 18 players, each in a super costume, they deliver up 30 numbers as a wicked witch (Natasha Drena) starts the action going when she demands 4 things from a poor baker and his wife, if they wish to become parents. Wendy Melkonian is the baker’s wife and does a great job as does each and every cast member.

Caroline Arapoglou is poor Rapunzel with the long hair, and you also meet Little Red Riding Hood (Shelli Delgado), and Brody Wellmaker and Christopher L. Morgan as a couple of princely guys. Cinderella is also in the show, played by Diany Rodriguez.

Directed by Justin Anderson and choreographed by Sarah Turner Sechelski, the show moves along quite easily. The music is provided by a live band under direction of Ann-Carol Pence. They’re onstage but high up and out of sight during the show.

The Aurora is easy to reach in Lawrenceville, with plenty of free parking and plenty of beaneries nearby. Times and tickets at AuroraTheatre.com


The Library

Out of Box
The Library
Out of Box Theatre
through March 19, 2016

This is another one of their more serious productions, staged in the round, with a minimalistic set and very few props. The play, by Scott Z. Burns has enjoyed mixed reviews. It is not one for children, or for those who may have had to deal with treachery or PTSD situations.

It seems to be drawn from the various school murders which have taken place in the last decade. Maybe you recall the days when there were no security guards needed and no metal detectors at each entry. No more. It is now a different world.

A young man had entered the school and shot up a bunch of students. He knew there were some hiding and one of the students may have given him a clue as to their whereabouts. We meet Caitlin (Lauren Gabriel) who is just lying supinely on a table, as if it were a hospital bed. She’s been shot. But, worse than that, she’s also been blamed as the one who allegedly ratted out the hiding place of some others who were then victimized.

Her dad (Jeffrey Bigger) may not have a Norman Rockwell sort of relationship with her mother (Stacy King), but he shows up and he cares and he wants what is right for her. This girl is going through hell, and although she knows the truth, and truth would free her, it doesn’t always work quite that way.

Emily Tyrybon comers on as Dawn Sheridan, a destroyed mother whose son has been killed in the attack. She seeks to find solace, and in the process she is approached by a publisher (A. Julian Verner) who wants to break the story while it is still hot, and can provide substantial incentives. There’s also a local newscaster (Stephen DeVillers) who is bugging her to talk with him, albeit the detective (Mary Saville) in charge of the investigation wants the tone down any more exposure.

The catch line for this work is The truth doesn’t always set you free. and while that may be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this will inspire you to want to experience it again and again. The actors do a very creditable job, under the direction of Zip Rampy. But, the jury is still out on this one as to whether or not it really has legs.

Out of Box is on Cobb Parkway a little south of The Big Chicken, and you can get full info and tickets at OutOfBoxTheatre.com


The Pirates of Penzance

Pirates Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance
Atlanta Opera
through March 13, 2016

What a treat for our Opera and it’s fans. The Pirate gang playing at Cobb Energy Center has been such a huge success that they have already added an additional show.

Gilbert & Sullivan have been around for more than 100 years. They started around 1870 and wrote 14 comic operas, of which Pirates and Pinafore may be best known. Producer Richard D’Oyly Carte brought them together and staged their works many times at London’s Savoy Theatre. The names became etched into the history of G&S. Some years back, we actually had a group here who named themselves The Savoyards, and they performed in several venues around town, later becoming Atlanta Lyric Theatre, now in Cobb County and still going and growing strong.

You probably know the story. Young Frederic (Matthew Newlin) is apprenticed to a pirate when his nanny, Ruth (Victoria Livengood), misheard her instructions to apprentice him to a pilot. Frederic is a nice guy and not very piratical at all. And the pirates themselves are a bunch of wimps. There are scenes where they deal with having grown up as orphans, where they become enamored of a bunch of lasses who are the wards of the Trump-ish Major-General (Curt Olds), and the problem with Frederic having been born on the 29th of February. But, even if you don’t know all the story ahead of time, it all comes easily to you. There are super-titles even though the production is sung in English.

Kevin Burdette sings the Pirate King, and he is really quite good at all the silly schticks, and Burt Olds is a perfect model of a modern Major-General. Frederic falls in love with Mabel (Maureen McKay) and they plan to wed. Oops. There’s a little glitch they find out about in Act II. Ms. McKay has a lovely voice, especially in the solfège parts. And you’ll enjoy Kyle Albertson as the head copper. He finds out that a constable’s life is not always a happy one.

Seán Curran has returned to Atlanta direct this opus. He enhances the story line and the music and lyrics with some neat choreography, which is his specialty. And the full orchestra in the pit is conducted by David Agler, who has done operas around the world, including the wonderful Australian Opera company which is fantastic when it comes to opera comique.

They are playing to a pretty full house. Plenty of parking at a reasonable rate (compared to trying to park near the Fox) and more info and tickets available online at AtlantaOpera.org


Prelude to a Kiss

Prelude Kiss
Prelude to a Kiss
Onstage Atlanta
through March 26, 2016

Duke Ellington wrote and Ella sang, Though it’s just a simple melody, With nothing fancy, nothing much, You could turn it to a symphony, A Shubert tune with a Gershwin touch. And perhaps this what inspired the film in 1988 starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin. Then it went to the stage in 1992.

It has generated some reviews which come off as WTF is this all about, while others say it is to show us that we may benefit from being able to see ourselves in the bodies of others and therefore be able to see the world as others may perceive it.

It’s no secret that nothing becomes clear until the second act. We meet a young man, Peter (Chris Schultz), who hooks up with a pretty barmaid, Rita (Sara Lynn Herman), and after a heated 6-week relationship they decide to exchange vows. As the wedding takes place, an old geezer who looks like a hobo, played by Scott F. Rousseau, crashes the reception. The guests look at him and wonder who he may be. The old guy looks at some of them as is he once knew who they were. And before he leaves, he gently kisses the bride.

And that’s when the psycho aspect of this work comes into play. Peter and Rita take of for a honeymoon in Jamaica. It’s lovely, but Rita doesn’t see to be the same Rita he just married, and things start to go awry. It is only later that Peter finds out that within the body of the old guy there may not only lie the soul of Rita but a deadly cancer as well. Back in the 1980s it was assumed the writer, Craig Lucas, was asking viewers to think how they would react to somebody with AIDS.

This production, directed by Barry N. West takes place on a static set with various props which move in and out through the many scenes. If you are not into psycho-drama it could be a bit difficult for you to deal with. Or if you have had to deal with somebody close to you who has lost their marbles and comes off as a different person than the one you knew, that could be a bit hard as well.

In addition to the three leads, the cast is rounded out by 9 more players, and they do a good job with what has been written for them. While some of us may wonder if this one has legs, it is now onstage 30 years into existence. So there could be a message in that. More info and tickets found at OnstageAtlanta.com


Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities

Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque du Soleil
through May 8, 2016

Yes. A MUST SEE . . .

Over three decades, Cirque du Soleil, out of Montreal, has brought worlds of wonder and fantasy to the world at large with touring shows and some permanent productions such as “O”, which is still playing in Vegas. With thousands of employees they are probably the largest live entertainment organization in the world, and this new show is one of the very best they have done in quite a while.

The show is kind of tied to a steampunk start-off, as the strange critters manage to warp time, space and sizes to fit whatever dreams they wish to participate in. You needn’t worry about not getting into a story; because the total excitement of the acts will blow you away. One may assume that most of the incredible acrobatic performers are from Eastern Europe; as many of their cast members are from that area and China.

The music is stuff you haven’t heard before, and the lyrics (when there are some) may be unintelligible but it is just musical wallpaper for the performers. The costumes and props are right out of a kid’s fairy tale, and in this one nobody gets hurt; so it is totally kid-friendly.

Cirque has now come back to performing in their Grand Chapiteau at Atlantic Station. There is plenty of parking adjacent to the tented areas, and there are heat generators so you can be quite comfortable. I guess the bottom line on this one is that on the proverbial scale of 1 to 10, this is at least a 12. It is soooooo exhilarating that when the show comes towards the end you kind of wish it would go on for another hour.

The official site for the show is at CirqueDuSoleil.com/kurios where you can get more info and order tickets. There are also plenty of third party ticket vendors whose sites will pop up if you google the show. They are playing to very full houses, and everybody is loving it. If I sound overly enthusiastic, then maybe I need to see it again, and again . . .