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"Death By Disco," August 28 - October 4, Theatre Rowe, 200-2012.
"Singin' In the Rain," September 11 - October 4, Town Theatre, 799-2510.
"Hairspray," September 11 - October 4, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.
"Marie Antoinette," September 18 - October 3, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
"Little Shop of Horrors," September 18-27, On Stage Productions, 351-6751.
"Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type," September 18-27, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"The Threepenny Opera," October 2-10, USC Longstreet Theatre, 777-2508.
"Anansi the Spider," October 3, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.
"Stop Kiss," October 8-11, USC Lab Theatre, 777-2508.
"The Foursome," October 9-18, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.
"Agnes of God," October 15-25, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.
"The Brothers Size," October 16-19, Trustus Black Box Theatre, 254-9732.
"Zombie Prom: Atomic Edition," October 23-25, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"Harvey," November 6-15, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.
"Merry Wives of Windsor," November 6-15, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.
"A Christmas Story," November 6-22, Town Theatre, 799-2510.
"The Phantom Tollbooth," November 13-15, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"Blithe Spirit," November 13-21, USC Drayton Hall Theatre, 777-2508.
"Circle Mirror Transformation," November 19-22, USC Lab Theatre, 777-2508.
"The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical," November 20 - December 19, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
"Miracle on 34th Street," December 3-13, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.
"Jingle ARRGH the Way," December 4-13, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
Press Releases for Current Shows
Camden Community Theatre
Center Stage Youth Theatre
Chapin Theatre Company
Columbia Children's Theatre
On Stage Productions
Ritz Theatre of Newberry
SC Shakespeare Company
Stage 5 Theatre
Sumter Little Theatre
Village Square Theatre
|History Comes to Life In Trustus Theatre's “Marie Antoinette”
Review by August Krickel
Is it possible to be a supporting player in the story of
your own life? And is it possible for someone famous primarily for being
famous to be seen as a tragic figure? These are challenges for the titular
character in David Adjmi's Marie Antoinette, the opening show in
Trustus Theatre's 31st season, and for the actress playing her, Jennifer Moody
Sanchez. Thanks to a creative team working at the top of their professional
game, these questions are explored and examined, as history comes to life in a
vivid, slightly skewed, surreal interpretation of the infamously frivolous
Director Robert Richmond has taken themes raised in Adjmi's
script - which allows French and Austrian royals from the 18th century to speak
in modern English vernacular - and enhanced them via creative staging. There's
no question that the French nobility of the era were partying like it was 1799,
and Richmond captures this vibe by using throbbing French techno music,
creating the metaphor of royal life as one big ecstasy-fueled rave. Yet as the
mood of the nation and the political climate turns darker, so does the music,
seguing into increasingly angry and menacing hip-hop (or as menacing as a
rapper can sound in French.) The message is clear: Marie and her peers are the
Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans of their day, oblivious to the needs of the
99%. Jean Gonzalez Lomasto's costumes convey the general feel of the time period,
but only employ a third of the material (which makes a number of quick costumes
changes more feasible) while Mark Ziegler's excellent wigs are just as absurd
and elaborate as those worn by the elites of Paris. I mention these technical
aspects first, because they are so striking, and because they set the tone for
the play: we're seeing history retold from a modern perspective.
Richmond has chosen his supporting cast well, many of whom
are former students of his from USC, and/or professional colleagues with whom
he has worked in other venues. Paul Kaufmann, a frequent leading man at Trustus
and elsewhere serves as a sort of everyman, technically playing three different
revolutionaries, but in actuality becoming the very eloquent and forceful voice
of the common people of France. Ellen Rodillo-Fowler and Lindsay Rae Taylor, as
Marie's ladies-in-waiting, and Benjamin Blazer, as a foreign diplomat, engage
Marie in assorted and seemingly superficial chitchat, but enable Sanchez to
create her character, as seen through the eyes of those around her. Eric
Bultman plays a sheep - remember, I said this was at times a rather surreal
retelling of history - to whom Marie turns in dreams or hallucinations as a
sensei-like source of wisdom and comfort. Chris Cook delivers a less
fanciful, more straightforward portrayal of Marie's brother, the Emperor of
Austria, seen here as a capable bureaucrat, and a contrast to his little sister
Marie, who has never been given any education or training in politics or how to
rule. (In a sort of theatrical Six Degrees, this is the same historical figure
who is Mozart's patron in Amadeus, just as Marie's son, played by Cade
Melnyk, is the identity claimed by the "Dauphin" in Big River.)
Everyone does a capable and proficient job.
G. Scott Wild as King Louis XVI, an immature and petulant
man-child, and Sanchez as Marie, a bartered bride given way at 14 for a
political alliance, face an almost insurmountable obstacle. History has cast
these figures as the equivalent of Bernie Madoff and Leona Helmsley, selfish
elites who brought about their downfall and that of their regime by their greed
and narcissism. There's no question that Adjmi - usually speaking through
Bultman's and Kaufmann's characters - wants to address these issues, but he also
has sympathy for the royal couple. Ultimately it wasn't their fault that no one
taught them how to be good rulers, or that their birth led them to their
positions, and not any actual ability or affinity for leadership. The parallels
with Charles and Diana are obvious, but what struck me was how there is never
once throughout the play any sort of adviser, viceroy, vizier or prime minister
giving either character any advice. Whereas, when the chips are as far down as
they can get, both actors allow us to see their characters' humanity, as Marie
and Louie still look out for each other, and try in vain to protect their
son. The first act is a rapid chase through a decade of turmoil, while
the second act slows down, becomes somewhat talkier, somewhat preachier, but
much more of a showcase for Sanchez's significant acting prowess. The final
thirty minutes play like an inner monologue of Cercei Lannister (the similarly
imprisoned queen from HBO's Game of Thrones) as Marie confronts figurative
demons from her past, present and future. It's a tour-de-force for
Sanchez, as Marie struggles to come to terms with her inability to control her
own destiny, despite her being the Queen of France.
Marie Antoinette is an excellent example of how to do difficult and challenging material with local talent and resources, and sacrifice not an ounce of quality. It's exactly the sort of lesser-known but thoughtful and thought-provoking material that Trustus has built its reputation upon. But I must concede that the material is dark, and that we are left to draw our own conclusions and interpretations from many of the questions and issues raised. So be forewarned that it's that type of entertainment, and not a romance or swashbuckler. Marie Antoinette runs through Saturday, Oct. 3; visit www.trustus.org or call 803-254-9732 for information.
On Stage Productions' “Little Shop of Horrors” Not Perfect, But Earnestly Joyful
Review by August Krickel.
Little Shop of Horrors
is an intentionally cartoon-like musical adaptation of a notoriously campy
Roger Corman B-movie about a man-eating plant, and it's running at West
Columbia's On Stage Productions through this weekend. Alan Menken's score and
Howard Ashman's book and lyrics channel the vibe of 1960's drive-in double
features, and the sound of girl groups of the era. As a dynamic trio -
waggishly named Chiffon (Kaitlyn Dillard), Ronnette (Jennifer Davis), and
Crystal (Eddenia Robinson) - broke into the familiar, peppy titular prologue
song, it occurred to me that I wouldn't trade them for the biggest-budget, most
star-laden professional tour of Rent or Cirque du Soleil. For me, three
young vocalists singing their hearts out only a few feet away from a
receptive audience, while a live band (musical director John Norris on piano,
Allen Knight on guitar, and Patty Boggs on drums) rocked with intensity just a
few feet off to the side, is what I enjoy about live theater in local
venues. Especially smaller ones with limited resources, when performers
defy expectations, exceed expectations, and make expectations irrelevant. For
me it's the difference between seeing Paul McCartney in a slick, pre-fabricated
stadium concert, vs. seeing him playing live with his mates in the Cavern Club
in Liverpool in 1961. Raw and sincere trumps smooth and refined for me every
That vocal trio really does capture the entire ambience of
the play's Skid Row setting, dressed and coiffed like three of the most
downtrodden, hard-luck hookers ever seen, until they break into the high
harmonies and synchronized choreography of the bands whose names they bear.
They function as both Greek chorus and a literal one, providing back-up
harmonies for most of the show's songs. (Note: these three alternate with
Arischa Frierson, Cortnie Stuppard, and Shelsey Stuppard on different nights,
and thankfully are allowed to glam up a bit in the second act.) Action
centers around Mushnik's Flower Shop, where the cranky owner (Bob Blencowe)
harangues his long-suffering employees, shy and awkward Seymour (Charlie
Goodrich) and ditz-with-a-heart-of-gold Audrey (Tracy Davis Davenport). Seymour's attempts to nourish
an odd little Venus Flytrap lead to unexpected financial success for the shop,
and soon everyone is prepared to live happily ever after. One problem: the
plant, named "Audrey 2" after Seymour's unattainable crush, likes
blood - human blood - and soon grows to gigantic proportions, complete
with a smooth bass soul-singer's voice (provided from offstage by Chadwick
Pressley.) The solution? Well, Audrey does have an abusive boyfriend, a
dentist and Elvis-wannabe (Robert Bullock) who both Seymour and the plant agree
"sho' looks like plant food to me."
While no scarier than a vintage copy of Eerie or Creepy
magazines, and certainly much sillier, Little Shop does contain some
adult themes. Audrey's lack of self-esteem causes her to stick with a genuinely
hateful and evil abuser simply because "He's the only fella I
got." Assorted victims are devoured live by Audrey 2, and while it's
just plastic hands and feet being fed to a funny-looking puppet made of wire
and plastic and canvas, there is unquestionably death and mayhem and dismemberment
in play, so parents should use their discretion and judgement. Seymour is a
dream role for Goodrich, who manages to capture the difficult mix of being
timid and geeky while remaining sympathetic. His duet with Davenport,
"Suddenly Seymour," is a great showcase for their voices, with
Davenport maintaining her high, nasally character voice throughout, yet still
achieving the effect of a sweet love song. Pressley similarly displays vocal
prowess, and all three could do a credible job in these roles in any off-Broadway
or touring production. For that matter, so could the physical Audrey 2 puppet,
created in intricate, realistic detail by local artists Matt and Carrie Marks.
Bullock swaggers with cocky, malevolent sadism, and manages some great physical
comedy as he climbs all over his patients. Harrison Ayer (whose principal role
is as unseen puppeteer) also turns up in an amusing cameo that gets some of the
show's biggest laughs.
The On Stage space has been upgraded and enhanced, with a
full curtain added to separate the house from the lobby area, along with some
very comfy and relaxing movie theatre-style chairs. Director Robert
Harrelson continues to work wonders with finite footage and the budget of a
smaller community theatre. His growing reputation for quality proves that
"if you stage it, they will come," i.e. actors with the talents and
skills to do roles in name-brand shows like Little Shop. Goodrich,
Pressley, and Blencowe, for example, all make their On Stage debuts here,
having done lead and featured roles previously in shows across the river at
Town and Workshop Theatres. A less ambitious director might have balked at
trying to recreate a famous special effect in the play's final moments that
ideally calls for a high ceiling and a grid suitable for high-tech rigging, but
Harrelson simply does the best as is possible with available resources, and a
simplified effect works just fine. I also must rave about an original
innovation devised by Harrelson, and perfected by choreographer Melissa Raynor
Berry. I don't want to give away a terrific surprise, so let's just say that
it's a sort of "practical" special effect, one that completely caught
me by surprise, and one that is so obvious in retrospect that I'm amazed no one
has ever thought of it before. And as above, the band led by John Norris zooms
through the lively score like it's a rock concert, not a stage musical.
While the production is by no means perfect (ultimately it's community theater, it's in a converted retail space, and the material is designed to appeal to 13-year-olds of all ages), I have to say that this was for me two hours of sheer, unabashed, joyful fun. It's not fancy, and it's not deep, but it's the kind of earnest and sincere production that more theaters ought to do, and more people ought to see. You have five more chances, this Thursday through Sunday, with both matinee and evening performances on the weekend. And a note on the location - it's just a few minutes across the river from downtown Columbia, located at 680 Cherokee Lane, which is about halfway to the airport. Visit http://www.onstagesc.com/ or call 803-351-6751 for ticket information.
Town Theatre Kicks Off 97th Season With a Solid, Pleasantly Entertaining Revival of “Singin' in the Rain”
Review by August Krickel.
Town Theatre kicks off its 97th season with a solid, consistent, pleasantly entertaining revival of Singin' in the Rain, an early 1980's stage adaptation of the 1952 film, which in turn was devised to showcase even earlier songs from the 1920's and '30's by composers Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. The movie is often ranked among the best and/or most popular of all movie musicals, but much of the spectacle was scaled down for the limitations of the Broadway, and Town's production by necessity is scaled down further still. Dazzling performances by filmdom's best - Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor at the height of their professional and creative prowess - contributed much to the screen version's enduring appeal; without them, the stage musical depends on the plot, which is simple but amusing, and the songs, which are similarly innocuous and nice to listen to. Thanks to the vitality and commitment of the young leads and the proficiency of the creative team behind the scenes, Singin' in the Rain is the theatrical equivalent of curling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn for a comfortable evening of familiar favorites on TCM.
The setting is Hollywood at the dawn of talking pictures.
Former vaudeville song-and-dance man Don Lockwood (Jeremy Reasoner) has become
a star in the silents; sidekick Cosmo (Parker Byun) toils as an accompanist,
setting the tone on set by playing piano, while Don and emotive diva Lina
Lamont (Shelby Sessler) crank out formulaic costumed romances. Lina loves Don,
but Don only has eyes for feisty young chorus girl Kathy (Samantha
"Sam" Livoti), who makes it clear she's not about to be swept off her
feet by a smooth-talking celebrity. When talkies become all the rage, the
latest Lockwood-Lamont epic hits a snag, due to Lina's screechy, nasal voice
and harsh New York accent. The solution? Make Kathy dub Lina's voice - and if
you've ever seen an episode of I Love Lucy, you can guess the rest of
the plotline. In fact, with only minimal updates, Betty Comden and Adolph
Green's script would work in a modern setting, with some starlet caught in a
Milli Vanilli-like lip-syncing scandal.
And then there's Lina Lamont. Her
voice is so ridiculously high and annoying - imagine the love-child of Edith
Bunker and Arnold Horshack - that I can think of only one performer with enough
range and vocal power to be able to sustain the sound for more than two hours.
Fortunately, that's exactly who plays her. Shelby Sessler even generates
sympathy for Lina on "What's Wrong With Me," in which she must
portray someone who can't sing within the show... yet still hit all the right
notes in her solo to entertain the real audience. She also has the flamboyant
mannerisms and gestures of a silent film star down pat. Plus she is willing to
gamely take a pie to the face like a pro. Extra special kudos must also go to
scenic designer Danny Harrington, who handles changes in locale every few
minutes with ease. Some settings are defined simply by lighting, others employ
minimalist backdrops, some need no more than a curtain or bare stage to
indicate a studio or theater interior, and some benefit from detailed scenic
art (by Jamie Carr Harrington, including a striking exterior of Grauman's
Chinese Theatre.) It's the most cohesive and consistent work I can recall
seeing from him, and that applies to most of the performance aspects of the
production as well.
Chapin Theatre Company's “Noises Off” Is All About the Laughs
Review by August Krickel.
Could there be such a thing as a meta-farce? That's
about the best way to describe Michael Frayn's Noises Off, which is
running at manic hyper-speed at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical
College. Presented by the Chapin Theatre Company, this popular staple of
regional and community theatre boasts all the requisite components of a classic
stage farce: stock characters involved in risqué situations, plenty of broad
slapstick and physical comedy, doors slamming, pants dropping, and rapid-fire
dialogue that sends up social conventions. The twist? The cast are a
dysfunctional troupe of actors at an exhausting first/final dress/tech
rehearsal for a traditional farce (titled Nothing On), about to embark
on a tour of local British theaters. There's the dotty older actress (actually
named Dotty, and played by Zsuzsa Manna) who forgets crucial blocking and stage
directions. There's the harried director (George Dinsmore) who's eager to move
on to his next directing gig. There's Frederick, the generic, ascot-sporting
leading man (Frank Thompson) who chooses the night before opening to begin
questioning nuances of character motivation. And there's Brooke, the luscious
young thing (Samantha Roberts) who is oblivious to everything around her; is
she simply staying in character as a lingerie-clad bimbo, or is she really that
dense? The expected interpersonal conflicts unfold as rehearsal drags on,
and by the close of Act One, they've only managed to get through their own
Here's where Frayn's genius kicks in, however, and why the
play has such enduring popularity. Designer Matt Pound's sturdy and detailed
two-story set, complete with staircases, balconies, and at least eight
easily-slammed doors, is rotated 180 degrees, and we see the same set from
backstage of the play-within-the play. It's a month later, and as often
happens with long runs or tours, most of the cast are at each other's throats,
sleeping with each other, or both. The Nothing On performance begins
just on the other side of the set for a British matinee audience, while we, the
real audience, see all hell breaking loose backstage, with shenanigans mirroring
the plot of the fictive farce, just worse. And with the added pressure of
having to whisper or silently mouth almost all dialogue, since, remember, they
are waiting in the wings of a play in progress. It's hard to threaten a lover
or rival, or cajole a colleague, while simultaneously remembering to make an
entrance on time.
These issues are instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever
worked in any capacity on a play, where the drama is most often found in the
dressing room. While no real knowledge of theatrics is needed to appreciate the
story, just in case this is a completely alien environment, it's worth noting
that stage managers (played here by Jane Martin and David Fichter) are
responsible for the smooth flow of each performance. This means overseeing all
technical aspects of the production, but also understudying all the roles, and
being prepared to step in at a moment's notice if an actor - like perhaps the
hard-drinking, elderly Selsdon (Perry Simpson) who is prone to running off to
the pub or any place he may have stashed a bottle - is suddenly unavailable.
It's also important to remember that when something goes awry on stage - a
dropped line, a missed cue, a botched entrance - actors often try to cover via
some quick improvisation. Capable Belinda (Cathy Carter Scott) takes this to
absurd extremes, insistent on covering any glitch with increasingly improbable
ad-libs of justification. Meanwhile Frederick is stumbling about with his
pants around his ankles, Garry (Bryson Howard) is hopping up stairs due to his
shoelaces having been tied together, Brooke is fumbling for a missing contact
lens, Selsdon is missing, and everyone is slipping and sliding on misplaced
plates of sardines. And that's just the second act - Act Three picks up six weeks
further into their ill-fated run.
Obviously a tight and competent ensemble of performers is
necessary to pull all of the above off, keeping up with the split-second timing
while not breaking their necks. This is such a cast, willing and able to fling
themselves frantically up and down steep staircases and in and out of rapid
costumes changes. My only gripe would be that due to the fairly large house,
the dialogue's fast pace, and the necessity of English accents, not everyone is
always able to be understood clearly. Dinsmore, Thompson, and Howard are
probably the best at both projection and enunciation. On the other hand,
one could sit through this play a dozen times and still never catch 100% of
what's going on, since that's part of the inherent humor: half a dozen
squabbles, pratfalls, and tantrums are always happening simultaneously, and as
with a three-ring circus, you simply have to select what to follow, and when,
The true stars of this production are set designer Matt Pound, for creating a functional set that's up to the challenges posed by the madcap storyline, and director Glenn Farr, who has crafted it all together seamlessly. It's a very amusing rendition of a very amusing play. My caveat, however, is that it's a very, very silly play as well. There's no redeeming literary or social value, and no intent beyond entertainment. Imagine creative minds from SNL, Monty Python, and the old Carol Burnett variety series all collaborating on a wicked spoof of what goes on behind the scenes during a show, and then performing it while on acid. If that hasn’t scared you away, then by all means you should see Noises Off, because the director and cast have done an admirable job with difficult material. It’s also worth noting that the Chapin Theatre Company continues to thrive in their new digs in the Harbison Theatre, mounting bigger and more complex productions that are easily the equal of anything in downtown Columbia. Noises Off runs through this coming Sunday, Sept. 20 (with a closing matinee performance); visit http://www.chapintheatre.org/ or call 803-240-8544 for ticket information.
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