In The Heights

In The Heights
Aurora Theatre
through August 28, 2016

You may have heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose play, Hamilton, walked off with most of the Tonys this year. He also created In The Heights which also won several awards, and this production is a tribute to the story he tells, as well as the story of the company involved in this production.

Washington Heights is a neighborhood in Manhattan which, like many we know of, has gone evolved through ethnic changes. It’s may be kind of like a West Side Story, except it is not about street gangs. Maybe a little like Calle Ocho de Miami, where we have a carnaval del barrio each March.

This is a co-production with the Theatrical Outfit, and it will play intown later this year. It makes so much sense to have two good companies join together to share the costs of a great set by Shannon Robert, and also allow the cast of 27 players to hit the boards again. Sort of a localized touring production. And, maybe one day soon we’ll have a group like this getting booked into other cities in nearby states.

Ann-Carol Pence is the music director and on the keyboard with eight more players, just off-stage. There is a LOT of incredible choreography designed by Ricardo Aponte, and the prodution is directed by Justin Anderson. It is an ultra-high energy show, that makes you feel exhausted even though they are doing all the work.

While there are 24 numbers in the show, it isn’t like Cats where you leave the theatre humming the tunes. It’s more like being at an opera with no super-titles, albeit most of the lyrics are en Inglis. This is a treat for the eyes, the ears, and the soul; for the real story line is not about a student who takes a lapse year from Stanford, or a father who would sell his business to help get her back through college, nor about a chica who gets involved with a really nice hombre negro.

It is about you and all of us, and how we all reap the benefits when we accept one another and join forces to make meaningful lives and communities. It’s a show that many politicians should be forced to attend.

Every member of the cast is just spot-on. You will love it. It is playing to sold out houses, so visit their website for more info and tickets. AuroraTheatre.com



Essential Theatre
through August 28, 2016

The Essential Theatre has been dedicated to presenting new works by Georgia playwrights for the past 17 years, and they are a valuable asset in our theatre community. Currently playing at the West End Performing Arts Center they are staging the world premiere of Dispossessed by Karen Wurl.

It is set in New York in the 1920’s when Yiddish theatre flourished with performers such as the Thomashefskys and Molly Picon. We meet a theatre group in rehearsals for their production about a young woman about to be married, and not quite into the act. It is based on the Yiddish play, The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds.

Marc Gowan is the father of the bride to be, in the play within a play, as well as the play itself. So you may get a wee bit confused. But, as the head of the family of performers, he wants his daughter, Rivka (Amelia Fischer), to marry Natan (Jake Krakovsky) who plays the role of the lover in the play and play within. He’s important; as the father wants him in the business to help build audiences.

The mother, Chavelle (Kathleen McManus), is right out of The Goldbergs. She’s the type who knows what you want and tells you what you want to do. Then we meet up with the spirit, Leah (Alyssa Caputo), who provides some input to Rivka’s assessment of her rights and obligations. It wasn’t easy for the young woman in those days.

Directed by Peter Hardy, the cast of nine players pull off a very engaging performance. This fine script is the Essential Playwright co-prize winner for this year, and one that every member of the cast and crew can be proud of. Hopefully it will get to play to bigger houses in years to come. There are Yiddish terms in the script but you don’t have to be Jewish to understand what is being said. Bottom line is this one is a winner in many ways.

The venue is on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, easy to get to, free parking and good seating for the small stage. This show will run in repertory with it’s co-winner, When Things Are Lost, so check dates and times easily at their website, EssentialTheatre.com



Actor’s Express
through September 11, 2016

Stephen Sondheim broke some barriers almost 50 years ago when he did the music and lyrics for a musical which wasn’t the usual sort of story line or revue show. When it had it’s first season in NYC it won 7 Tonys. And it has been a standard ever since.

Actor’s Express has done a great job creating a new set for the show in their facility. It is performed with seating on 3 sides of the stage and a live band at the back of the stage. The cast of 14 players come on as a single guy, Robert (Lowrey Brown), who lives in New York and isn’t all that interested in a permanent relationship. Robert, a/k/a Bobby, is having his 35th birthday and 5 couples who are his friends show up to celebrate and bring him a cake.

The tune, Bobby, is used multiple times as the couples come and go and the scenes change. The story line is somewhat blasé, and the time changes are not that important. Bobby does see some women; and in Act II actually gets into it with a flight attendant, April (Kelly Chapin Martin), who has to decide if she wants to take off for Barcelona or stay in NYC with Bobby. Because, as you would expect, he decides that he is tired of the solitary life, and while the friendly couples may yearn for some of the freedoms that he has; he sees the benefits of being together with a caring partner.

Probably the best numbers, and the ones that we all recall are Side by Side, which deals with being with another, Being Alive which is belted out by Bobby when he finds love, and the one about Ladies Who Lunch, which was done to a such a happy crowd by Libby Whittemore. That’s the number that Barbra always did so well, although I don’t think she ever played the role of Joanne.

Freddie Ashley directed this one and it is VERY well done. Alli Lingenfelter is the music director and is on keyboard. In a time when all the political garbage is being tossed at us 24 hours a day, this is a welcome relief. Easy to get to, plenty of parking, and a comfortable venue. This is a solid 10. Their website is at Actors-Express.com


Miss Saigon

miss saigon
Miss Saigon
Serenbe Playhouse
through August 14, 2016

Miss Saigon is a somewhat adaptation of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly moved from Japan to Vietnam and the 1970’s as the Vietnam War draws to an unacceptable end. Many of us may recall the remaining Americans from the Embassy being airlifted off the roof by choppers, as the streets were not passable under control of the People’s Army.

The play was crafted by the same folks who brought us Les Miz, and also deals with people fighting off despair and destruction in hopes of finding a better life. The award winning production has played in huge facilities around the world, and the highlight was the helicopter coming in onstage in Act II. Not a real one, just a fantastic prop. And it was the main thing that most viewers stored in their memory banks.

It was on a small Norwegian island that a theatre company staged the play in the open air, and used a real helicopter. This may have been an inspiration for Brian Clowdus and his associates to bring this to life at Serenbe.

Let’s just say the story is about some GIs who have flings with working girls in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and how true love doesn’t always work out quite the way one may wish. I don’t want to spill the beans as to some of the plot twists. Because you won’t see it coming until it gets to you.

Serenbe is down south of the Airport, and you can get maps from their website. Their production is staged in a field with rows of chairs facing a one-set stage which is basically a rice paddy. There are some really good costumes and dance moves, and while you never see them, there is a full live orchestra behind the 19 actors. Audio and lighting are no problem. Just hope it doesn’t rain during a performance.

We meet Kim, a young woman who gets sucked into working for a hustler and pimp dealing with the GIs. Niki Badua is terrific as Kim, and Eymard Cabling is the character-within-a-character called “The Engineer” who will say and do anything to get what he wants. Oops. . . . Maybe he should have run for office.

The GI named Chris (Chase Peacock) gets hooked on Kim and in deeply. The story is one that is very stressful. It is not for the kiddies, as they won’t get the historical connections; and could also be tough for some who lived through the war in Nam. You have to salute Brian Clowdus for having the guts to take this one on. The music is good, if not the type that you leave a theatre humming; and the voices are strikingly good.

If you’ve not been to Serenbe before, make sure you plan your visit with due consideration for the rush hours traffic on our highways. There are fast food places nearby, and places to eat in Serenbe. Be aware that this is out in the open. You drive in on a dirt road, park in a field, walk over to the amphitheatre on a dirt path, and enjoy the evening. One suggestion is to bring a small flashlight with you, as you want to watch your step when time to leave.

It may not be for everybody, but it is a truly well done presentation and a real experience. You feel as if you just got back to the States when you leave. Much more info and tickets at SerenbePlayhouse.com


‘da Kink In My Hair

kink in hair
‘da Kink In My Hair
Horizon Theatre
through August 28, 2016

Trey Anthony is the Playwright in Residence at Horizon this year, and working on developing a new play. This one dates back to 2001 when it first played in Canada and the UK. She says it is derived from a lot of her own life experiences and the sixth sense that so many women have about life in general.

Terry Burrell, who recently pulled off a one-woman show about Ethel Waters, is now Novelette, a woman from Jamaica who has a beauty salon here in town. It’s better known as Letty’s Salon. And she is a believer that if you want to know a Black woman, you just have to touch her hair. And that’s what we see as the trigger mechanism to get each of eight different women to spill the beans to the others.

The play moves along with some island type dances, plenty of sturm und drang, and a score that you’re not going to be humming as you leave the show. Maiesha McQueen is Miss Enid, a lady who is intent on recreating her physical pleasures. Marliss Amiea is Sharmaine, who is in from Hollywood and strutting her stuff as she seeks her VIP treatment. Each of the ladies has a story to tell, including the only white gal, Jennifer Alice Acker. She has some acceptance problems as she is not a typical homey for this salon.

The set is static, except for some projected imagery from time to time. And there is live music provided by S. Renée Clark and Monica Carter. It is a series of stories of hopes, experiences and rebirths, as each seeks the ways to obtain control of their lives.

The Mirvish Theatre group which has many stages in Canada did produce many presentations of this play, but it has had a limited run south of the border. It may well be more for the ladies then for some guys, although the sold out house was not limited by sex nor ethnicity to any degree. More info and tickets at HorizonTheatre.com


Kiss Me Kate

Kiss Me Kate
Stage Door Players
through August 7, 2016

Local theatre fans have a great week right now. Another terrific musical just opened at Dunwoody Stage Door Players, with a fine cast, and live band and some really camped up stuff that would have The Bard in stitches.

Directed by Alan Kilpatrick, the cast of 14 players come on like Energizer Bunnies. Jen MacQueen choreographed the show and the audience really loved it, especially when Bianca (Lyndsay Ricketson) did her Tom, Dick or Harry routine with Gremio, Lucentio and Hortensio.

This one has been around for more than 50 years, and is still enjoyed around the world. You know that it is more like Mel Brooks than Bill Shakespeare, and is about some show folks who are opening another show in Philly, Boston or Baltimore. You have to really mind your manners not to be singing along, especially when the two mobsters, Luis Hernandez and Jessica DeMaria sing off at the end of the show with Brush Up Your Shakespeare. And that one is fine for you to join in.

Bryant Smith plays the guy who is to be Petruchio in the play within a play; and he’s got some relationship problems with Lilli (Paige Mattox) who is cast as a shrew oft called Kate. She’s ready to quit the stage, but nothing ever works out as planned, and the action moves along.

Even though this is a small stage production, it moves easily from scene to scene; the band is back-stage but in perfect synch with the action, and the costumes make you think that maybe you need to loose a couple of pounds.

This is one piece of work, and there wasn’t one minute that didn’t captivate the audience. More info and tickets at StageDoorPlayers.net


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

joseph dreamcoat
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Atlanta Lyric Theatre at Cobb Energy Center
through July 17, 2016

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been around for quite a while, and never fails to provide enjoyment to audiences around the world. If you have never seen the show please don’t think that it is a Bible-thumping production, for it is not. While loosely based on the Book of Genesis, it is a camped up creation of the geniuses Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The show is a send-up of the story of Joseph (Stanley Allyn Owen) and how he helped out the Pharaoh(Shane Delaney) with some agricultural planning advise, and then took off without any GPS for a long schlep through the desert. The music includes many types of melodies almost all of which are beautifully supported by dozens of youngsters on stage.

If you saw the production at The Fox about 5 years ago, please know that this is a far better production. The sets, costumes, props, choreography and musical numbers are bringing down the house at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center

Galen Crawley does a smashing job at the teacher-narrator. Glenn Rainey plays Jacob and young Benjamin is played by Matt Alea. This three day extravaganza is directed by Brandt Blocker, and choreographed by Cindy Mora Reiser.

Am amazing amount of work for a production which goes to stage only three times. The final performance will be Sunday at 2pm. More info available at AtlantaLyricTheatre.com So Go, Go, Go Joseph and have a ball.


Almost Heaven

Almost Heaven
Almost Heaven, John Denver’s America
Georgia Ensemble Theatre
through July 30, 2016

Once upon a time there was a young man named Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. He was born in 1943 and was raised as a military kid, moving from one base to another around the country. Along the way he learned to play the guitar, and sing. He also composed most the numbers he performed, writing over 200 works in his career. He hit the big time in the 1960-1970 era with numbers such as Rocky Mountain High, and others that made him famous. And, along the way he changed his name to John Denver and that is how he was known.

This work directed by Robert J. Farley is not so much a play as a cabaret concert. The five man group includes Dolph Amick, Molly Coyne, Chris Damiano, Scott DePoy and Jeremy Wood. It’s cool in that each of the players doubles on 2 or more instruments, while Molly Coyne adds some bells and tambour hits.

The performance is a series of songs originally performed by John Denver, which are presented along with the various performers each coming on as John Denver remembering his life. The story, if you can call it that, does deal with his youth, his 14 year marriage to Anne, the divorce, and the subsequent brief marriage.

If you are a Denver fan and know how he died in 1997, then you would know that he was an aviator who loved to fly his own aircraft. He owned several planes, including a Lear Jet which he used when going on tour. He also had a little problem with hooch, and as a result his license had been restricted by the FAA. It was during that period that he was flying a Rutan-Long EZ two-seater off the California coast, when he went down for the last time. It might be thought of as a sad ending; but the flip side of the coin is that he cashed out doing something he loved to do.

The show’s title comes from his gold record hit, Take Me Home, Country Roads; and after his passing it became the State Anthem of West Virginia.

The show is being produced in the open on stage at Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell. There have picnic tables and chairs under cover, or you may elect to just go with sitting on the lawn and bringing your own blankets and chairs. For performance times, tickets and more info visit GET.org


Smart People

smart people
Smart People
True Colors Theatre
through August 7, 2016

Lydia Diamond wrote this one about 4 folks in Boston area with advanced degrees from Harvard, as they explore facets of racial discrimination and pre-judgements. It premiered in Boston and then went to NYC where Kenny Leon directed. Now he has brought it to his home base and brought in David de Vries to direct this version.

The NYC show did not garner rave reviews, and some slight adaptations have been made for True Colors’ presentation. There are four characters, a white neuropsychiatrist (joe Knezevich), a black medical intern (Neal Ghant), a black wanna-be actress (Danielle Deadwyler) and an Asian-American professor of psychology (Ginny Yang).

The set designed by the Curley-Clay sisters starts off looking like a Rubik’s Cube. But, once the action starts it works easily with changing sets which slide in and out of various portals, and computer generated imagery which can go from one scene to another in the blink of an eye. The action takes place in a medical center, a classroom, an office, an apartment and various other venues.

It is not the location, nor even the IQ levels which really defines the play. It is designed to make one reflect upon pre-conceived characterizations, preferences and prejudices; whether found in the genes or in the jeans, whether taught or inherited.

The doctor is not happy as he feels he is not fairly treated because of his skin color. Are there different assessments of his skills for that reason? You tell me. In 2008, when Obama was running for office, and when this play is set; we know that some forms of discrimination persisted in employment as well as even in college admissions. Back in the 50’s the Ivy League schools such as Harvard had limits on admission of Jews, Catholics, Blacks and Hispanics. It took some serious work to get those limits eased.

The neuropsychiatrist wants to get on with some research relating to prejudices, yet he also has his own problems; especially trying to relate to students he considers to be not quite up to expected standards. The actress is going through the auditions routines, getting nowhere in a hurry and doing odd jobs to survive. She finally gets to New York, albeit isn’t Broadway or The Village. And the Asian-American lady goes through some acceptance difficulties, regardless that she sees herself not as Asian but as a practicing slut, with a PhD.

The bottom line is that the problem is not going to just go away in a matter of a few years. While a person may back away from some poor chap on the street dressed in rags, he/she thinks not what that person may be inside that body. For it is more important to judge a person by his/her character then to pre-judge their character by their ethnicity.

For many of us who have had plenty of diverse life experiences, seem to agree that when you know people of other cultures and backgrounds, the less likely you may be to want to kill them. Except for what’s been in the news these past weeks.

For more info and tickets visit TrueColorsTheatre.org


The Last Five Years

Last 5 Years
The Last Five Years
Out of Box Theatre
through July 23, 2016

This is a story of a relationship between two creative folks of different values and skills, and how it evolves over a five year period of time. It is performed in an operetta style with the two characters singing all their lines, other than one short speech by the man.

Jamie Wellerstein is a writer and fighting his way up the ladder. It’s not easy reading all the rejection letters. I know. He meets up with Cathy Hiatt, an aspiring actress when they are both in Ohio. But, Ohio is not for novelists and would-be stars of stage and film.

Cathy has her own rejection phenomena to deal with as she auditions for parts, up against those gals who look younger and have bigger boobs. You know the role that the casting couch supposedly played.

Jamie has to return to NYC to follow his career, and the action moves there for a while. Jamie (Stephen DeVillers) is a Jewish guy and Cathy (Lauren Rosenzweig) is Gentile girl, a/k/a a Shiksa in Yiddish. And the story alludes to some rejection possibility by Jamie’s family. But, we don’t really get into that much other than the one musical number, Shiksa Goddess.

The music is provided by three musicians on stage under the direction of Annie Cook on the keyboard. Melissa Simmons brought the show together and directed it. This one hit the boards around 2002 in NYC but ran only for a couple of months. It has been staged in many small houses in this country and overseas. But, it’s not a score that you’re going to run out an buy a CD of for your car. And, some times it seems as if the music is competing with the vocalists as opposed to supporting them. So they wind up screaming molto voce.

The cast and company do a really full power job of presenting this work, and you have to salute them for their efforts. More info and tickets at OutofBoxTheatre.com