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"By the Way, Meet Vera Stark," May 3-18, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
"Miss Saigon," May 10-26, Town Theatre, 799-2510.
"Songs For A New World," May 10-25, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.
"A Servant of Two Masters," May 15-18, SC Shakespeare Company, 787-2273.
"Arsenic and Old Lace," May 17-26, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.
"Review Revue" fundraiser, May 17, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"Of Mice and Men," May 30 - June 9, Theatre Rowe, 200-2012.
"The Commedia Rapunzel," June 14-23, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"Mama Won't Fly," June 14-23, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.
"Ain't Misbehavin'," June 14 - July 20, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
"Always... Patsy Cline," June 21-22, Ritz Theatre of Newberry at Newberry Opera House, 276-6264.
"Macbeth," June 21-30, Stage 5 Theatre, 718-6144.
Press Releases for Current Shows
Camden Community Theatre
Center Stage Youth Theatre
Chapin Community Theatre
Columbia Children's Theatre
On Stage Productions
Ritz Theatre of Newberry
SC Shakespeare Company
Stage 5 Theatre
Sumter Little Theatre
Village Square Theatre
Town Theatre Wins the War Over “Miss Saigon”
Review by James Harley.
Producing a demanding musical like “Miss Saigon” in the
Set during the Vietnam War, “Miss Saigon” tells the story of
Kim, an unfortunate young Vietnamese woman who has lost virtually everything,
including most of her family, in the ongoing conflict. With nowhere else to
turn she, like many others in her situation, is recruited into prostitution
where she meets Chris, an American soldier. The two quickly fall in love, but
the fall of Saigon to the red army pulls them apart almost immediately as the
To go much further would spoil the production, so suffice it to say that the remainder of the show is an intense battle between love and circumstance told in an extremely touching manner.
Despite reasonable concern that casting a Caucasian as Kim might adversely impact its visual realism, the show is really more about the effect of the lovers’ prohibitive geo-political situation than their differing races. Thus, placing the highly talented Shelby Sessler in the lead role is far from problematic when it comes to the actual quality of the production and its intended message.
Sessler demonstrates clearly why she was among the finalists for Jasper Magazine’s 2012 Theatre Artist of the Year award, exhibiting exceptional vocal strength throughout the show. Indeed, despite the band’s best efforts to drown out the performers on stage (the show’s only significant weakness) they could not touch Sessler, who simply cranked it up a notch and blew them away, making absolutely sure that the audience caught every word that flowed from her mouth.
Lanny Spires as Kim’s lover, Chris, doesn’t compete with Sessler in terms of power but shines in his vocal acting, accentuating his numbers with clear emotion, effectively showing his love, doubt, frustration, hope and confusion when appropriate.
Will Moreau displays classic showmanship as the Vietnamese pimp who dreams the American dream, while several of his scantily clad “employees” deserve mention (and perhaps even some suspicion) for their notable pole and lap-dancing skills. Scott Vaughan, Parker Byun, Karly Minacapelli and the adorable Luke Young are also solid in various supporting roles.
The production’s huge ensemble is utilized with extreme creativity by Harrington, actively establishing the mood in every scene, be it celebratory, imposing or frantic. Her attention to detail amidst the dynamism is notable from the immediately engaging opening to the final curtain. Some other highlights include the crowded strip club scene and the very powerful “Fall of Saigon.”
Also playing an integral role in Harrington’s directorial process is the exceptional wedding of lighting and scenery, both designed by Danny Harrington. With the show’s radical shifts in pace and location demanding a rather barebones set, Harrington gets aggressive with the lighting, energizing the stage and the action through both color and movement. Again the result is a spectacular dynamism that naturally stirs emotion in the viewer.
The range of emotion in “Miss Saigon” is quite wide, as there are many disturbing and many touching moments to enjoy. Of course there are a few minor flaws here and there, but none (other than the band blocking out important lyrics) that diminish the overall impact of the production. Whether or not you are a regular Town Theatre patron, if you enjoy well directed theatre you should enjoy this show.
Be aware that it runs fairly long (about two and a half hours) and that there are a few instances where foul language is used, in addition to lots of skin and sexually suggestive movement on display (it’s about a prostitute, remember). None of this behavior goes too far overboard, however, nor does it dictate the entire flavor of the show.
“Miss Saigon” runs through May 26 at Town Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 799-2510. For more information, visit our Press Releases page.
Workshop Theatre’s “Songs For A New World” Goes Beyond the Ordinary
Review by August Krickel.
"I have no idea to this day what
those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know.
Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about
something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart
ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than
anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped
into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the
briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."
There were times when I felt much like Morgan Freeman's character in The Shawshank Redemption at opening night for Songs for a New World, the new show at Workshop Theatre. Jason Robert Brown's musical resembles in structure an anthology of poetry set to music, a series of self-contained little stories and character studies that play out in one song only, unconnected to the rest of the production. With no spoken dialogue, no plot, no costumes, and only the most minimal of sets, nine supremely gifted stage vocalists not only sing but act each song, in solo and ensemble numbers. Sometimes touching, sometimes amusing, sometimes inspirational, Brown's score contains echoes of Company-era Sondheim, Godspell-era Stephen Schwartz, and a lot of jazz and soul. I'll confess that at times I wished there were a little more structure, since the point or "plot" of some songs was a little murky, but the soaring voices of the cast and the opportunities for individual performers to shine more than made up for the absence of traditional elements of musical theatre.
Chad Henderson has
recruited a Who's Who from some of his recent productions: Elisabeth Baker,
Kendrick Marion and Vicky Saye Henderson (no relation to the director) all worked
together in Spring Awakening; Marion appeared with Samuel McWhite,
Kanika Moore, and Andy Bell in Passing Strange, while Bell, Baker, and
Vicky Saye Henderson explored family dysfunction in Next to Normal,
and Paul Lindley II was seen in director Henderson's recent Children's
Theatre production of Knuffle Bunny. Rounding out the cast are
Mark Ziegler, who worked with musical director Daniel Gainey on last fall's Legally
Blonde (and was a memorable crooner - and mooner! - in last year's Grease)
and newcomer Molly Schoolmeester. Great care seems to have been taken to divvy
up the right songs to the right singers, with plenty of opportunity to showcase
individual skill, range, and talent.
Baker gets most of the numbers dealing with young love, and is particularly appealing in the wistful "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," beginning with a list of trivial fears that others have, but eventually getting around to the boy who is afraid to say he loves her. McWhite and Lindley duet in "The River Won't Flow," a lively and snappy assessment of the role of luck in our lives.
There's no weak link within the cast, and everyone takes the spotlight for one or more songs, or solos within songs. A particular highlight is McWhite's moving rendition of "Flying Home," possibly the first time I've ever seen an audience so impressed with the singer's performance that they began to clap *while* the song was still going on.
Kendrick Marion also
has some wonderful moments, as an inner-city youth whose ambition has no bounds
in "The Steam Train," and as an apprehensive mariner "On the
Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492."
Actors in traditional
musical comedies are often limited by the constraints of the script, the
arrangements and orchestration, and their interactions with the other
characters within a scene, but here everyone has the chance to sing freely,
without restraint, and their joy and exuberance is palpable. Repeatedly I
found myself thinking "Wow, I don't think I've ever heard him/her sing
that well before."
The show's nineteen numbers breeze by in almost exactly two hours. I can imagine theatre purists being disappointed that in the end, this is just a collection of pretty songs, however well done they may be. Still, purists also clamor for local theatres to take risks, and go beyond the ordinary and the expected. Ultimately, one's enjoyment of Songs for a New World will depend on how much one enjoys music, and songs that could just as easily have been done in true cabaret or concert style. The difference here is that each singer is also a talented actor, and each musical number affords the opportunity to tell a story, and create a character, in a way that only an actor can. If you're especially fond of any or all of the performers I've mentioned, especially in the shows referred to above, you don't want to miss them in this bravura performance.
Songs for a New World runs through Saturday, May 25; contact the box office at 803-799-4876 for ticket information. For more information, visit our Press Releases page.
Trustus Theatre’s “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark” Mixes Comedy and Commentary
Review by James Harley.
Trustus Theatre’s current production of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s newest work, “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark,” is a balanced combination of light-hearted comedy and deeper cultural commentary.
Examining the life of fictional African-American actress
Vera Stark, the story follows her journey from servitude to stardom in order to
shed light on the impact of the social and political climate upon an aspiring
artist’s opportunities. Stark begins as the maid of popular 1930s film actress
Gloria Mitchell, but seeks to fulfill her own dream of celebrity, hoping that
Directed by Dewey Scott-Wiley, the show is almost two short plays rolled into one, with the first act presenting Stark’s 1930s world to the viewer. Primarily comic, the opening segment parodies early film stereotypes as we meet Vera, played by Michelle Jacobs (Good People, The Motherfucker With the Hat), and Gloria, her flamboyant diva employer. Katie Mixon (Pride and Prejudice, 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche) plays Gloria to the hilt, her dramatic bi-polar swings grabbing numerous laughs, all while Vera’s serious dreams are established. Stark’s roommates, also aspiring black actresses, are introduced as well, with Annette Dees Grevious standing out as Lottie, a very matter-of-fact character that serves as something of an anchor for Stark. She contrasts sharply with the manipulative Anna, played by Janell Bryant.
Also standing out is Bobby Bloom as film producer Mr. Slasvick, who is probably the most believable character in the show due to Bloom’s well-played subtleties. Indeed, one of the challenges in the first act is to maintain a sense of unity with so many different stereotypes present at once, a challenge which is not always met. Also a bit confusing is the location of the various scenes, all of which are played within one master set without much visual differentiation to aid the viewer. Not a major problem, but when examining the stark life differences between these characters it would certainly be more impactful if these differences were made visible in their home environments.
The second act jumps 40 years ahead to the early 1970s, where a panel of black scholars and activists discuss the legend that Vera Stark has become. Jacobs and Mixon maintain their roles in the live “video” that the panel views, while the remainder of the cast assumes new roles, with Bloom and Grevious again standing out as talk-show host Brad Donovan and scholar Carmen Levy-Green respectively. Wela Mbusi effectively steps in as Herb, the generally level-headed leader of the discussion.
The tense debate is occasionally relieved with comic freezes of the video, allowing for some pantomimed stage pictures which are the visual highlight of the night.
Other than the lack of clear scenic differentiation and some rather dark lighting the production values are generally good, especially the costuming which captures both bygone periods well.
From the see-saw battle between humor and seriousness, reality and stereotypes, poignancy ultimately emerges, providing a somewhat meaningful experience for the viewer. Like all shows, it has its strengths and weaknesses, but the main draw of “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark” is really more in its unconventional structure. With each act you visit a different world with different circumstances, and if that is still not enough for you there is even a website (www.meetverastark.com) that actually continues the hunt for Stark in an intended sort of digital third act.
The show leans a bit more toward community theatre than professional quality overall, but is certainly unique in many regards that make it worth seeing. “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark” runs through May 18. For reservations call the Trustus box office at 254-9732. Visit our Press Release page for more info.
To read August Krickel's review of "By The Way, Meet Vera Stark," visit the Jasper Magazine Blog Site.
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