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Theater Review: MAN of La MANCHA

42703952_1809145059204194_2246938636555649024_oJan Farrington of TheaterJones published her review today of Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre‘s current production of Man of La Mancha and it is quite favorable.  Congratulations to my wonderful cast and incredible crew for a most stellar show!  We reached for that star and it proved reachable after all.

Below are excerpts from the review:

Director [Allen] Walker has collected a strong cast, and music director Kristin Spires pulls fine singing from the mostly-male chorus and some great solo voices in the mix. These are singer/actors who can switch from a passionate song to a bit of goofy comedy in a flash, and dance well enough to Jenny Jermaine’s choreography. A few elements of the production need a kick in the pants (more on that later), but if you’re even half onboard with this musical’s message and charms you’ll end up with a tear in the eye …

When Man of La Mancha opened in Greenwich Village in 1965 (music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, and a script by Dale Wasserman, whose other ‘60s hit was his stage adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), the show’s rag-tag appeal and eccentric hero set it apart—and audiences loved it, keeping the play going downtown and then on Broadway until well into 1968. It’s been revived endless times—sometimes buried in huge sets and special effects—but TART wisely sticks close to the show’s simple roots. Ellen Doyle Mizener’s weathered gray set design—wood railings and platforms hung with draped lengths of burlap—blends with costume designer Autumn Hyun’s rough, muted costumes. The overall effect is enhanced by Holli Price’s atmospheric lighting and Chase York’s projections.

If you don’t know La Mancha by heart, this is a play within a play, a storytelling tour de force tucked into a prison drama. Spanish writer/actor Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), caught up in the net of the Inquisition (Catholic Europe’s attempt to combat the new “Protest-ant” movement by destroying all opposition), is tossed in a crowded cell to await questioning. His life—and the unfinished text of Don Quixote—are in the hands of a scraggly, thuggish-looking band of fellow prisoners. Entertain us, they growl, and we might not tear you and your book to shreds.

Theater dude that he is, Cervantes (Brad Stephens) swings into action—diving into his trunk for fake swords and armor, searching the cell for “found objects” he’ll need (some clever prop choices by Don Gwynne), and giving the surprised prisoners parts to play in the story he’s improvising moment by moment.  And so begins his tale of the old country gentleman Alonso Quixana [sic], who reads novels of knights and ladies all day long—so many that his brains dry up and he imagines himself into the bent, twig-thin body of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” a knight errant (that means he’s on the move) out to save the world, one damsel and one injustice at a time.

No matter that by Cervantes’ time, knights hadn’t been a thing for centuries: Quixote knows who he is.

Are we to admire his out-there idealism, or not? The world hasn’t always quite approved of the Don. The word “quixotic” means clinging stubbornly to unrealistic goals. “Tilting at windmills” (DQ thinks they’re evil giants) implies a disastrously inflated view of your own strength and abilities.

You don’t do La Mancha without A Voice, and Brad Stephens’ rich baritone and reach-for-the-rafters delivery scores high in the show’s blockbuster numbers, “Man of La Mancha” and “The Impossible Dream.” At the matinee show reviewed (the historically cursed second performance) Stephens struggled throughout with a sizeable moustache that simply refused to stick. Maddening and distracting, of course—and perhaps the reason his portrayal felt a bit flat at times. There’s plenty of urgency in Stephens’ great singing; no reason not to take that into a high-stakes performance as well.

Amanda Williams Ware makes a gutsy, tough-as-nails Aldonza, the kitchen maid (and “whore,” she adds defiantly) who’s re-imagined by the Don as high-born “Dulcinea”—the patron saint of his quests. Ware has a terrific voice and emotional range, whether quietly puzzled in “What Does He Want of Me?” or burning with anger in “It’s All the Same” and “Aldonza.” And she keeps an impressive side-eye trained on the gang of male prisoners who circle her like wolves.

Alex Krus (he directed TART’s 2017 Gutenberg! The Musical!) has a light, pleasantly piercing voice—and is sly and funny as the farmer Sancho Panza, roped in to be the Don’s faithful squire. A practical guy with his feet on the ground, Sancho admits he only stays in this loopy adventure because “I Really Like Him.” When he can, Sancho does his best to get between Quixote and the dangers he doesn’t see coming.

Jason Solis, seen as the Taxi Driver in Artes de la Rosa’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, is a standout among the smaller roles. He sings like an angel, and scores playing both the neighborhood “Padre” and an Alladin-esque gypsy carnival performer. Solis teams with Emma Bruce and Kristal Seid, both marvelous singers, as the niece and housekeeper who assure the priest they’re “only thinking of” the old man’s welfare as they try to stop his wanderings. Their trio has gorgeous harmonies—and at the end of the play Solis also leads a ringing chorus of the old Latin hymn “De Profundis” (“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord”).

Michelle Phillips, playing an innkeeper’s wife, literally jumps on a table to rouse us with “Knight of the Woeful Countenance,” and Kelley Garland is strong and sturdy as the Innkeeper. John Tillman comes on cool, brainy and sharp-edged as the niece’s fiancé Dr. Carrasco and the prison trial’s “prosecutor”—who dislikes Cervantes’ make-believe. Chase York is amusing as the cheerfully confused barber whose shaving basin becomes Quixote’s golden helmet.

The group of male prisoners (and the few women among them) make a good chorus—and what’s more, they’re “all in” for every moment onstage. As the audience for Cervantes’ story, they grin, applaud, lean in, wince in sympathy. And when called on to play a part, transformations are instant. Kirk Corley’s presence and Carlo Aceytuno’s fight moves are notable among the crowd, and Chris D’Auria’s expressive face keeps catching the eye.

At the performance reviewed, there were body-mike issues—most seriously for Amanda Ware as Aldonza/Dulcinea. Ware has a big voice and beautiful control over her singing—but her mike just wasn’t right. (The innkeeper’s wife, similarly equipped, nearly blasted us out of our seats.) The audience struggled to hear some of Ware’s softer, lower passages; that’s a shame, and needs a fix. Also, the prerecorded orchestral track needs to be dialed down at more than a few moments when it overwhelms the good singing onstage. Again, it’s TART’s first time at Scott—no surprise that things need adjusting.

Tilting at windmills? Time will tell. But they, and we, share a grand tradition of imagining a different, better world. And in Cervantes’ bony, brave old knight, we can choose to find a mirror reflecting our own faces—and a challenge to decide who we are, and what we hope for.

The full review can be read here.

Man of La Mancha closes Sunday, October 14th.  Tickets may be purchased at Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre.

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Theater review: SHE LOVES ME

 – Ordinarily, going all the way to Budapest to see a good show would be too far to go.

But in the case of Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s current production of the musical She Loves Me, which is set in that East-European capital, the journey is more than worth it.

This 1963 musical by Joe Masteroff and Jerry Bock is based on one of the most frequently adopted pieces of literature in the 20th century. It began as the 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklós László, and served as the basis for three films: the romantic comedies The Shop Around the Corner(1940) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), and the musical, In the Good Old Summertime(1949).

But this more recent stage musical has proven to be one of the most enduring adaptations, having had a strong initial outing and a couple of revivals on Broadway, with still another slated for next year. Plus, it has been a frequent visitor to regional and community theaters since its debut.

Set in a shop dealing in perfumes and various female notions (of every type), She Loves Me tracks the halting romance between fellow employees Georg (Brad Stephens) and Amalia (Lauren Morgan). The pair fall for one another in the course of an anonymous correspondence, which was apparently one of the ways boys met girls in the story’s day. But, when they just happen to wind up working in the same perfumery, they develop a highly antagonistic relationship without knowing they are the people who so warmly call one another “dear friend” when putting pen to paper (something else people used to do).

Since the course of true love seldom runs smooth on the musical comedy stage, it takes them a few major misunderstandings and several delightful numbers to get their hearts in the right place. Their efforts in that direction receive little help from their fellow bath oil peddlers, all of whom have problems of their own.

So, given the durable track record of this story, it is no shock that the plot pulls you right along. But you may be surprised at the overall quality of all of the components of this production, which marks the debut of the highly-talented and widely-booked director Robin Armstrong with this company.

Just about everyone and everything in this show sparkles like fresh snowflakes. Stephens sings his role with gusto and a strong sense of character. Morgan, who is one of the founders of the company, lends a beautiful voice to her part that we too seldom hear in this company’s shows. Sarah Powell, as the shop girl Ilona, delivers her numbers in a manner that matches her striking and fiery red tresses.

The efforts of these leading characters are consistently equaled by the supporting players. Even the minor part of the head waiter at a restaurant where Georg and Amalia have an awkward rendezvous is delivered with great verve by Billy Betsill. Most of the other singers come through just as well. But Evan Faris, as the insecure clerk Sipos, needs to have more confidence in his voice and let it rip when his number is up.

Armstrong, who is admired for her work with madcap farces, does an excellent job in her maiden voyage with a musical. She brings a keen sense of comedy and motion to her staging that gloriously enlivens the material. And her vision of the piece is perfectly complemented by Karen Matheny’s inspired choreography. The bountiful fruits of their partnership is most apparent in the staging of A Romantic Atmosphere, one of the show’s best numbers in every regard, which also features the input of Kylie Frandsen for its tango moves.

The show’s set, by Morgan, her husband Jason Morgan and Keith Glenn, is almost a character unto itself. Its rolling parts are brilliant in their design and dazzling in their execution. The only knock is that the look is far too bare. The shop’s exterior, especially needs a sign, and the interior needs some wall decorations.

Also exceptional are the period costumes designed by Armstrong and Lauren Morgan (is there anything these women can’t do?) for this show set in 1937 before and through Christmas.

The primary shortcoming of the production is that it relies on a recorded score. But that fault is offset somewhat by the fact that we get to enjoy the show’s wonderful voices without amplification in the cozy confines of the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

So, while there are just a few rough edges, there is a lot to love in this musical from a company far better-known for its works from the Bard and Jane Austen adaptations. Everything about this She Loves Me makes it easy to love it.

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Improv Dallas Performs This Weekend!

10430855_555952837868722_1469489094736451998_nThis weekend I’ll be performing with Wendy Pennington and my Improv Dallas comrades!  Come out this Saturday for some laughs and cocktails! Doors open at 6PM. We know you’ll need it after all that Turkey and Shopping!!! ONLY $10!! Following our show the Zach Bramhall Blues Band performs!!!

Improvisation, or improv, is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up on the spot. We will take a suggestion from the audience to get started.

Improv is unique in that if you see a performance, that’s it… there will never be another show exactly like it ever done again. Improv is different every time.

AND… we have a couple of NEW Players added to our fabulous cast!  RSVP on Facebook for more info!

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They Think To Go Like Saints

Print vouchers for $2 off/ticket.

Print out a voucher for each ticket desired, present them at the theater and receive $2 off/ticket!

Rehearsals are well underway for my next project, The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller and a classic of American drama. Opening September 12th and running through the 28th, the production re-teams me with director Allen Walker (The Curious Savage, Hay Fever) and launches Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre’s second season. I will perform the role of John Proctor.

Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. When a farmer’s wife is falsely accused of witchcraft by her former serving girl, the threads of this Puritanical society begin to unravel. Class envy and long-held grudges erupt as it suddenly becomes fashionable for neighbor to accuse neighbor of trafficking with the Devil.  Can John Proctor save his wife’s life, along with his own good name, before the fires of bigotry and deceit consume their world? This gripping drama, which Arthur Miller wrote as a condemnation of McCarthyism in the 1950s, is still a timely parable for our contemporary society.

Tickets may be purchased online at www.thetart.org or by calling the box office at 682-231-0082.

UPDATE: You may also purchase tickets at the theater and receive a discount.  Simply print out as many ticket vouchers as needed and present them at the door for $2 off each ticket.  Vouchers are only valid at the box office and cannot be used for tickets purchased online.

Reviews of The Crucible:

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Big Improv Show Tuesday Night

Here’s the flyer for our next Improv Dallas Big Improv Show:

Improv Dallas Show 20140812

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/ImprovDallas!

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Playwright to Attend Performance

Brad Stephens in HOPE & GRAVITY

Brad Stephens in Circle Theatre’s HOPE & GRAVITY

Hope and Gravity playwright Michael Hollinger will attend the Saturday, July 12th evening performance at Circle Theatre with a “talk back” immediately following the show.  The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions about his newest work, a non-conventional play consisting of a series of interconnected one-acts presented out of chronological order.  The Circle Theatre production is only its second professional staging.

Since opening on June 21st, Hope and Gravity has enjoy a warm reception from audiences and critics alike.  Punch Shaw of the Star-Telegram praises the play for its “rich and funny” dialogue, noting “there are no weak performances.”  Nancy Churnin of the Dallas Morning News enjoys “Harry Parker’s smart direction”, while David Novinski of TheaterJones finds it “instantly likeable”.  Elaine Plybon of The Column Awards exclaims, “It is always refreshing to see a new play, but I found this one definitely worth seeing again and again.”

Just as an elevator starts and stops on random floors, nine different stories are connected by a simple twist of fate. This nonlinear play travels backward and forward in time as each character experiences the highs and lows of relationships and chance encounters. Their universal quest for life, love and happiness results in both comedy and tragedy. As the play draws to its inevitable closing, two strangers must decide whether or not to risk taking a momentous leap of faith.

Circle Theatre’s mission is the advocacy of contemporary plays rarely seen in Dallas/Fort Worth. Hope and Gravity will run June 19th through July 19th. Visit Circle Theatre’s website for showtimes and tickets!

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Immaculate Conception of The Big Picture

The cast of HOPE & GRAVITY Skype with playwright Michael Hollinger prior to rehearsal.

I am currently in rehearsals for Hope and Gravity, a new play by Michael Hollinger which will have its second professional staging at Circle Theatre.  The production reteams me with director Dr. Harry Parker who directed me in Company two years ago.  After meeting Hollinger via Skype during our first read-through, the cast and I have dug into rehearsals which have been full of discovery and laughs.  I’m anxious to see where we go next and excited to get the play on its feet and in front of an audience.

Just as an elevator starts and stops on random floors, nine different stories are connected by a simple twist of fate.  This nonlinear play travels backward and forward in time as each character experiences the highs and lows of relationships and chance encounters.  Their universal quest for life, love and happiness results in both comedy and tragedy.  As the play draws to its inevitable closing, two strangers must decide whether or not to risk taking a momentous leap of faith.

Circle Theatre’s mission is the advocacy of contemporary plays rarely seen in Dallas/Fort Worth.  Hope and Gravity will run June 19th through July 19th.  Visit Circle Theatre’s website for showtimes and tickets!

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T.A.R.T. and The CURIOUS SAVAGE

Poster – The CURIOUS SAVAGEI’m pleased to announce I have accepted an offer to perform in Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre‘s upcoming production of The Curious Savage.  Written by John Patrick, the second production of TART’s inaugural season is slated to be directed by Allen Walker and scheduled to run May 9 – 25, 2014.  I will play the part of Hannibal.

When Ethel Savage’s husband passes away shortly after the end of World War II, leaving her the family fortune of ten million dollars, she decides to create a memorial fund in his honor – a fund to help people make their foolish dreams come true.  Her grown step-children, however, have other plans for the money and commit Mrs. Savage to a sanitarium until she gives up her crazy scheme – unaware that she has already sold control of the family industries, converted the money into negotiable bonds, and buried them.  Hilarity ensues as Mrs. Savage sends them on wild goose chases to see how far they’ll go to make fools of themselves.  Meanwhile, the gentle patients of “The Cloisters” teach Mrs. Savage that the virtues of generosity and kindness have not entirely been lost in a world that at times seems only motivated by greed and dishonesty.

Visit www.thetart.org for further information and to purchase tickets.

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Best Actor in a Play, Equity

Best Actor Column Award 2014The 15th Annual Column Awards Gala was held Monday night at the Granville Arts Center in Garland, Texas.  Brad Stephens received the trophy for Best Actor in a Play, Equity for his performance as Alan Raleigh in Circle Theatre’s 2013 production of God of Carnage.  This is Stephens’ third Column Award victory.

Hosted by Executive Director/Producer and Founder John Garcia with guest hostess and Broadway star Rachel York, the event brought together the entire DFW theater community to honor excellence and celebrate the theatrical arts.

The Column Awards honors excellence in theater throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community, both in Equity and Non-Equity theater companies.  This marks their 13th year uniting and celebrating the accomplishments of all artists who bring to life the art of theater.

Nominations are made by the over 22,000 readers who subscribe to The Column.  Practically everyone and anyone who is involved in DFW theater is a subscriber as well as those who love to attend and support this beautiful art.  Thus, those nominated have been chosen not only by the very peers with whom they work but also the very audiences for whom they perform.

The Column Awards is also a major fundraiser gala for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, a charity they have supported since year one.  They have raised & donated close to $70,000.00 to BC/EFA to date. The Column Awards is the only awards organization in the entire United States that donates all money raised (after expenses) from ticket sales of the gala to BC/EFA.  The Column Awards has been very honored to have been acknowledged by the national media, BC/EFA, Actor’s Equity Association, and the Broadway community for their fundraising efforts.

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Many Cooks, Many Laughs

Cast of TOO MANY COOKS at Circle Theatre, running October 17 – November 16, 2013.With two weekends left in its run, Circle Theatre’s hilarious production of Too Many Cooks is enjoying sold-out performances, uproarious laughter, and standing ovations.  Strong word-of-mouth and stellar reviews are driving ticket sales.  Seats for the remaining eight performances are going fast.  The show takes its final bow Saturday, November 16, 2013.

“If you could bottle this kind of comedy, I’d take a case,” raves TheatreJones critic Jan Farrington.  Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s The Column Online, recommends the farce as “a great example of its theatrical genre and a splendid way to watch eight actors finely adept at their craft.”  Clark finds favor in every cast member .  Of Brad Stephens, she writes:

“Always pulling his uniform into place, Stephens made [Constable] Effing the forthright, upstanding, tee totaling officer he is supposed to be. In a farce such as Too Many Cooks, that kind of character only leads to hilarity and Stephens brought it in style.”

For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.circletheatre.com or call the box office at 1-817-877-3040. You may also go in person to the Circle Theatre box office at 230 W. 4th Street, between Houston and Throckmorton, in downtown Fort Worth.  Tickets range from $20 – $35 depending on the day of performance. Senior, student, military, KERA, Press Pass, S.T.A.G.E. and group discounts are available.

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