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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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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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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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Voice Over Demo Online!

Brad Stephens Records VO ReelMy new voice over demo went live today at LambertStudios.net.

On Wednesday, I met with fellow actor, sound engineer and studio owner David H.M. Lambert (currently performing with me in Too Many Cooks at Circle Theatre) to record the demo and had the pleasure of receiving direction from the lovely Anne Lockhart.  Together, we cut eight spots in a couple of hours and produced a demo with which I’m quite pleased.  I cannot express enough my gratitude for their help.  In my opinion, Lambert studios is the best value in DFW for voice actors in need of a demo reel.

You can hear my sixty second reel below or head over to Lambert Studios website and hear the whole kit and caboodle!

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ONCE IS ENOUGH Trailer Unveiled

ONCE IS ENOUGH StillOver the past couple of months while I was sporting a beard as Baron Skanskorg in Undermain Theatre’s production of Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata, I was privileged to work with independent filmmaker Paul Csige on his new film, Once is Enough, a comedy/fantasy about finding one’s way in modern America.  The production wrapped principle photography last week and Paul wasted no time in cutting together a trailer in time for the wrap party hosted yesterday.  Here is a peak at good things to come:

The film follows John Everman, recently divorced and reluctant to start over. On a beer run, John’s car suddenly breaks down in front of a warehouse run by Bob, an out-of-work Wizard.  John sees an opportunity to get his old life back by trying out new ones.  Bob gives John new lives and he’s swept away on adventures as other people but will they give him the life he truly wants?

In addition to the trailer, an extended clip featuring snippets of all the actors involved with the production was shown as well.  I was quite delighted to find so many actors I know and with whom I have worked involved in this film.

Once is Enough is scheduled to complete post by the end of summer 2013.

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Architecture and Theater Set Design

re-blogged from Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.

Ghost Sonata takes place in a mystical dream world through which mortals wander before reaching the kingdom of death in afterlife (Scenic Painter: Linda Noland)

The GHOST SONATA takes place in a mystical dream world through which mortals wander before reaching the kingdom of death in afterlife.
(Scenic Painter: Linda Noland)

As a boy, I was thrilled with an invitation to ride with my friend, Jimmy Wolf, to the Texas State Fair on Elementary School Fair Day. His father had a workshop/studio on the fairgrounds in what later became the Women’s Museum. Jimmy and I could just ride through the gates of the fair with his dad, no tickets necessary. Little did I know that when the day was over, I would be more fascinated with the studio and shop of Peter Wolf, the renowned theater set designer, than the fair itself. The old painted sets from South Pacific, Oklahoma, and others were stored in his immense workspace. His craftsmen were busy preparing sets for productions that I could only imagine.

Revelations of the characters' past lives form the action of the play and themes relate mainly to secrets, illusions, disappointments and tragedies of life.

Revelations of the characters’ past lives form the action of the play and themes relate mainly to secrets, illusions, disappointments and tragedies of life.

Like other Dallasites, my first introduction to theater was through the Dallas Summer Musicals. Up close, these sets looked like cartoons. It was hard for me to understand how billboard-sized illustrations could appear to be so realistic during the musicals. What magic transformed the two-dimensional flats into a South Pacific island in WWII, another place and time? This experience may not have had an influence on my career in architecture. But, I certainly see the connection today between my architectural practice and the design of theater sets.

I was reminded of this youthful amazement when I saw the sets for The Ghost Sonata, an upcoming play by August Strindberg at the Undermain Theatre. Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc. is a sponsor of the Theatre and our Marketing Director, Stephanie Chambers, is on the Board of the Undermain. We read in the newsletter that Strindberg’s Chamber Play will have phenomenal set design. I was curious to walk through the set and see what it might be like. I grabbed my camera and headed downtown to the theatre’s home under Main St. in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas.

Paintings on the floor assist the audience in the suspension of reality, catapulting them into the dream-logic of the play.

Paintings on the floor assist the audience in the suspension of reality, catapulting them into the dream-logic of the play.

Artistic Director Katherine Owen graciously greeted and led me on an impromptu tour of the set. The architecture of the scenery for The Ghost Sonata drew me in immediately and opened the door into Strindberg’s world, a surrealistic setting far removed from downtown Dallas. This creative theater company makes their basement locale of structural columns and low ceilings suddenly disappear in innovative tales through the immensely talented assemblage of set, lighting, costume designers, directors, and actors and top-notch construction team.

The themes in Ghost Sonata relate mainly to secrets, illusions, disappointments and tragedies of lifePaintings on the floor assist the audience in the suspension of reality, catapulting them into the dream-logic of the playI know little of the art, science or history of stage set and lighting design, but deeply feel its relationship to architecture. In many ways, the theatrical scene designer is much like a conventional architect. The designer must make real what only exists in his/her imagination and provide the vision in a graphic form for use in building the sets. Both architects and set designers use a flat page of two-dimensional construction drawings to communicate what the three-dimensional structures will be. Set design has a similar ability to elicit specific emotions and create mood with the use of perspective, space, scale, light, color, detail and proportion. It helps to define the characters and propel the ideas of the playwright. There is a language in theater scenic art that signals sophisticated clues to the viewer. Through its subtext it telegraphs context, location, relationships, time, mood and space.

The GHOST SONATA Set DetailDifferent from architecture, scenic designers must knowingly create environments that have a brief lifespan, are moveable, do not require the same rigor in construction, and are generally viewed from only one direction. Theater sets do not need to have complete integrity in the structures that they are meant to depict. Stage design and lighting create the illusion of three-dimensionality and can manipulate time and place. Audiences will not walk around and through rooms to experience the massing, proportion, mood and emotions its spaces create. The set designers develop a world for the play, which becomes a real construction project, ultimately introducing their imagined world to the audience. The skill of the lighting designers, directors, actors, and costumers complete the transformation.

The GHOST SONATA SetThough written in 1907, Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata is highly unusual modern theater in many regards. The relatively swift three-scene structure is based on sonata form, rather than traditional theater construction. It creates an atmosphere by repeating various themes, rather than developing a story through conventional portrayals of character and a linear plot. The Undermain’s interpretation and production of this play will, no doubt, thrill serious Dallas theater followers. But, the sets and lighting for this production, for me, stand alone as compelling art.

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Here’s a great read about my upcoming project, The Ghost Sonata at Undermain Theatre running April 13 – May 11, 2013.

Undermain Blog

Ghost Sonata Promo_20130314_0121 TOUCHED UP

Following up last week’s post on given circumstances as an element of play analysis, I’d like to turn my attention to the play Undermain is currently rehearsing – August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata.

Ghost Sonata is a highly unusual play in many regards.  The relatively swift three-scene structure is based on sonata form rather than traditional theatrical acts.  Identifying a clear protagonist is tricky: the character driving the action only appears in two of the three scenes, and the hero (/audience surrogate) is hardly present for more.  The dream-logic of the play makes the very rules of the world difficult to pin down.  When it comes to given circumstances, Ghost Sonata also explores an extreme end of the spectrum.

As I mentioned previously, some plays offer very little concrete information regarding given circumstances.  Beckett and Pinter, for example, tend to be elusive.  Most plays dole out a small amount of…

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Delicious CARNAGE

Mark Fickert (Michael), Lisa Fairchild (Veronica), Leah Layman (Annette), and Brad Stephens (Alan) in GOD OF CARNAGE

God of Carnage enters the fourth weekend of its very successful run at Circle Theatre in downtown Fort Worth this evening.  Garnering standing ovations from sold-out crowds, the production runs two more weekends, closing February 23rd.  Directed by Robin Armstrong, the critical praise for this show is almost as sweet as the cupcakes inspired by it.

A playground altercation between eleven-year-old boys brings together two sets of Brooklyn parents for a meeting to resolve the matter. At first, diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the meeting progresses, and the rum flows, tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving the couples with more than just their liberal principles in tatters.

Punch Shaw of DFW.com proclaims, “This production has absolutely everything going for it: fine script, great acting and outstanding direction.”  While some critics are divided on their appreciation for the Tony and Laurence Olivier award-winning script by Yasmina Reza, all have found favor with the cast.  “The play takes place in a singular, nonstop scene of constantly shifting action. And to that end, this cast acquits themselves impressively,” writes Kris Noteboom of Theater Jones.  Jimmy Fowler of Fort Worth Weekly lauds the play as “exceedingly well cast”.  And Kristy Blackmon of John Garcia’s The Column exclaims, “Armstrong and her cast do a respectable job with the material.”  Blackmon also states:

“In particular, [Brad] Stephens as Alan gives a commendable performance. It isn’t easy to make an audience both like and detest a character at the same time, but Stephens pulls it off. Though he is easily the most obnoxious character in the play, he is also the most honest. And [Leah] Layman’s sense of comedic timing is to be admired. More physical comedy is required of Annette than any other character, and she holds nothing back. Her final tantrum was perfectly over the top and had the audience roaring.”

The play was a success in its original language, French, and its Christopher Hampton English-translated productions have been equally praised in in both London and New York. The London production was widely acclaimed, receiving the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Play of the year. The Broadway production closed on June 6, 2010 playing 24 previews and 452 regular performances. It is the third-longest running play of the 2000s and won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play.

GOD OF CARNAGE CupcakesLocated in historic Sundance Square, Circle Theatre’s production has inspired a gourmet creation by neighboring business The Original Cupcakery.  The bakery’s God of Carnage cupcakes feature vanilla pound cake topped with spiced apple & pear compote with a ring of ginger buttercream.  The delicious concoction has been selling very well and will continue to be offered throughout the rest of the production’s run.

God of Carnage runs through February 23rd, 2013. Circle Theatre produces contemporary plays rarely seen in the DFW community and is committed to presenting professional, innovative theatre in an intimate setting.  For reservations and tickets, call the box office at 817-877-3040 or visit the Circle Theatre website.

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