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February 25, 2013

Clef Notes and Drama Queens is morphing into new blog

Hey, devoted (or annoyed) readers of my Clef Notes and Drama Queens blog: You will now find me on the newly created Artsmash blog, which gives me a chance to pontificate on even more subjects. 

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

February 18, 2013

Center Stage adds performance of 'Mountaintop'; Annex Theatre extends 'Equus'

It looks like a full-fledged trend -- Baltimore theater companies adding performances of productions thanks to popular demand this winter.

First to announce was Everyman Theatre, which extended the run of "August: Osage County." Two more companies have likewise found themselves with hits.

Katori Hall’s "The Mountaintop" isn't for everybody, but this serious/humorous/surreal look at Rev. Martin Luther King's last night, April 3, 1968, has turned out to be "one of the highest grossing plays" in the 50-year history of Center Stage, the company reports.

Although the production, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, still has to close on Feb. 24 as originally scheduled, an extra performance has been added that day -- 7:30 p.m. (Scheduling conflicts prevent a longer extension.)

Meanwhile, Annex Theatre, one of the city's young, intrepid troupes, reports that, "due to an extremely positive audience reaction," two more weekends have been added to its production of Peter Shaffer's "Equus." 

The show, directed by Mason Ross, opened Feb. 7 at the H&H Building downtown and was slated to finish up on the 17th. It will instead continue there through the weekends of Feb. 23 and March 1.

(You may recall that the Annex Theatre had hoped to be in a new, permanent home on North Avenue in a renovated fast food place, but there have been delays in the renovation process.)

PHOTO (Myxolydia Tyler, Shawn Hamilton in 'The Mountaintop') BY RICHARD ANDERSON

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

February 15, 2013

Signature Theatre stages brilliant, bracing 'Shakespeare's R&J'

In its nearly two dozen years, Signature Theatre has presented a rich variety of works, but none by the Bard -- not that there's anything wrong with that. The Tony Award-winning company has now taken the plunge in a terrific way.

"Shakespeare's R&J" examines the star-crossed lovers of Verona through the unexpected prism of a repressive, all-male Catholic boarding school. This brilliant and provocative work, created by Joe Calarco, first appeared in the late 1990s and has been widely performed since.

Calarco recently revised the piece, and that new version is receiving its North American premiere in a bracing, in-the-round production that he has directed with considerable flair.

The piece is wonderfully minimalist -- just four actors (the characters are unnamed), no set or costumes (save for preppy school uniforms), hardly any props (a long red cloth gets versatile use). The attention here is all on text and subtext.

The students are ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

February 14, 2013

'Flashdance -- The Musical' has flash, dance, little substance

Somewhere, a halfway decent adaptation of the 1983 hit movie “Flashdance” is fighting to break away from the amiable, strongly performed mess of a show that has arrived at the Hippodrome. Instead, we get an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink mishmash.

It’s partly a traditional musical, with at least the thread of a plot — a woman who welds by day but would rather dance — and new songs that advance the storyline, more or less.

It’s partly a jukebox musical, with emphasis on the vintage songs that helped make the film so popular.

It also wants to be just a big old dance celebration, with kinetic routines breaking out at the drop of a cliche.

As the show bumps and grinds across the stage, it seems, above all, to have been created for those with short attention spans. Things never settle down long enough to allow for such silly little things as character development or dramatic tension.

You would think that with such a strong, recent example of how a need-to-dance movie can make a good stage musical — see “Billy Elliot” — someone might have wanted to give “Flashdance” a few layers thicker than the loose sweatshirt the lead character wears.

The flimsy premise of this tale could use some filling out and suspense — anything to pump up the journey made by Alex, the mill worker with the hankering for ballet lessons.

“Flashdance,” with a book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, is content to stay on the same superficial level of the original source material.

This would have been a good time to try out some fresh dialogue, for a start.

And lyrics? Oh, my. Alfred Tennyson must be chuckling in his grave at this howler: “It’s better to leap and fall than never leap at all.” (Robert Roth wrote the music and shares credit for the lyrics with Robert Cary.)

I wonder if a campier course might have been more fun, given how brilliant, in its own crazy way, the stage adaptation of another dance-filled movie, "Xanadu," turned out. Oh well.

"Flashdance," expertly directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, may rely too much on nostalgia. The expected scenes from the film are recreated, though in a curiously dutiful fashion.

When the lithe and spirited Emily Padgett, who stars as Alex, removes a bra without lifting her sweat shirt, or gyrates while being doused with water, just like Jennifer Beals did in the film, it feels like she is merely following a to-do list.

There’s nothing remotely sexy about that bra business — Matthew Hydzik, as Alex’s boss-turned-boyfriend, Nick, looks like he’s watching the nightly news.

And the water number, used to bring down the Act 1 curtain, certainly looks fabulous (Klara Zieglerova’s scenic design and Howell Binkley’s lighting deliver plenty of sizzle throughout the production), but the whole thing is over in a splash. It feels tacked on, just a sop to the fans of the movie.

Superficiality does have its place in the theater world, of course, and there’s a certain guilty-pleasure element about this glossy vehicle, which tries so hard to entertain. (I still wouldn’t count too heavily on the show’s success if it ever makes it to Broadway — the Baltimore visit is part of a pre-New York national tour.)

In addition to the fluent stagecraft, the level of performing is high. Padgett manages to look fresh at the end of the two and a half hour musical, despite one frenetic dance after another (the choreography devised for her could use a bit more of the aesthetic and bit less of the athletic). She sings sturdily as well. If she can’t quite give Alex depth, she manages to give her some personality.

Hydzik glides smoothly through the role of Nick and, especially in the calmer numbers, proves to be a confident, stylish singer. He’s especially effective blending with Padgett in “Here and Now,” one of the more appealing songs in the score.

Not content to focus on one character’s journey toward artistic fulfillment, the show spends a little too much time with others. There’s Alex’s dancing buddy Gloria (a perky Kelly Felthous), who ends up in a sleazy club. And Gloria’s boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon), whose boy-meets-dream, boy-loses-dream, boy-gets-song progression proves only mildly diverting.

JoAnn Cunningham, as Alex’s wise old muse, Hannah, makes a valiant effort to give the character some depth, but she isn’t helped by the writers.

Supporting players make a considerable effort to spice things up. The ensemble of dancers/singers moves through its paces in polished form. But they would be better served by a few really grand production numbers, rather than an assortment of brief routines that often don’t have enough time to get off the ground.

On the plus side, “Flashdance” does deliver in the closing moments, when Alex finally gets her audition for the stuffy academy and the strains of “What a Felling” start to fill the house. There really is bit of a thrill at that point, but it’s just a little late.

The production runs through Sunday.

Photo by Kyle Froman

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

February 13, 2013

Single Carrot Theatre breaks in new digs with 'Tropic of X'

People anxious about seismic demographic shifts already under way in the Western Hemisphere may be a bit unnerved by Caridad Svich’s futuristic drama “The Tropic of X,” receiving its English-language premiere from Single Carrot Theatre — the company’s first venture in its temporary headquarters in the former home of Everyman Theatre.

The playwright’s vision conjures a world where North and South America have fused into a strange melange where languages and longings converge, or collide. The crudely hedonistic society that results comes with a violent undercurrent that some vague authoritarian power is ready to smash or exploit.

Amid the grime and slime of this cruel tomorrow, the old human impulse toward love and union can still break through, bringing with it the faintest tint of hope.

The intriguing, if not entirely persuasive, work has a little “A Clockwork Orange” in it, though with a Latin beat instead of Beethoven — a DJ spinning tracks, and official government lines, provides a connective soundtrack.

The staging, directed by Nathan A. Cooper, also suggests a touch of the vintage “Batman” TV series in the stylized fight scene early on (there’s even a baseball cap emblazoned with word “pow” on the brim).

With her Cuban, Spanish, Argentine and Croatian background, Svich obviously brings a keen perspective to issues of assimilation and alienation. “The Tropic of X” is all about identity — national, social, economic, and, most provocatively, sexual (gender-bending plays a major role here) — and how the things that define us can get pretty slippery.

What Svich doesn’t do is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

Midweek Madness just can't get 'Downton Abbey' out of the mind

With the season finale of "Downton Abbey" approaching on Sunday, I couldn't resist devoting one more Midweek Madness entry to the show -- the perfect addition to your paper doll collection:

 


 

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

February 11, 2013

Everyman Theatre extends run of 'August: Osage County'

The terrific inaugural production of "August: Osage County" at Everyman Theatre's new home has been such a success that the run is being extended.

Instead of Feb. 17, the new closing date will be Feb. 24.

There are many reasons to catch this show, starting with the brilliant play that Tracy Letts wrote. In peeling away layer after layer of a heavily troubled Oklahoma family, Letts uncovers unsettling things about all of us.

Those uncanny insights into human behavior, not to mention a wonderful streak of humor, earned Letts a Pulitzer and Tony Award for "August."

Everyman's staging -- the Baltimore premiere of the 2007 work -- features an excellent cast headed by the wonderful Linda Thorson in her company debut as the messed-up matriarch.

There are extraordinary efforts as well from Nancy Robinette (another company debut) and such Everyman veterans as Deborah Hazlett and Wil Love, to mention just a few.

The all-out ensemble effort reaffirms Everyman's quality and value to Baltimore's theater scene, while the handsome staging shows off the company's new venue to great advantage. 

PHOTO OF LINDA THORSON BY STAN BAROUH

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:19 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

February 6, 2013

Midweek Madness peers into 'Uptown Downstairs Abbey'

OK, I admit it. While the rest of the civilized world was glued to the Super Bowl, the TV in our house was emanating the glow of period drama -- the irresistible "Downton Abbey" on PBS. (I still think the Most Valuable Player Sunday night was Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper who managed to tackle sexism, anti-Catholicism and smug-ism all in one fabulous game.)

For the benefit of those who have not yet caught onto the Downton phenomenon -- and even more for the benefit of those who have -- Midweek Madness offers this unique introduction/recap/documentary:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 31, 2013

Stephanie Powers fills in for ailing Valerie Harper as Tallulah in 'Looped'

Valerie Harper has departed the national tour of "Looped," the play about late-career Tallulah Bankhead that will be presented at Baltimore's Hippodrome March 5-17. Stephanie Powers is stepping into the role.

Harper, who was nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for her performance in "Looped" on Broadway, was hospitalized during rehearsals for the tour.

The actress, famed as the character Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler More Show" and its spinoff, has returned to Los Angeles, "where she will receive continuing treatment and medical care," according a statement from producers. The tour opens in Fort Lauderdale Feb. 26.

Harper said that the "play has been such a gift and it was my hope and intention to play this role again in the upcoming tour. But given my doctor’s recent recommendations, I must now put all my energy into getting well and renewing my strength."

Powers, whose extensive stage and screen credits include the hit TV show "Hart to Hart," makes a particularly apt choice as a replacement. "Looped" is set in a sound studio, where Bankhead has a great deal of difficulty recording ("looping") a line of dialogue for the film "Die, Die, My Darling." That 1965 co-starred Powers.

HANDOUT PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:49 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

January 30, 2013

Midweek Madness has no choice but to join the Ravens madness

Sorry, Midweek Madness fans, if you thought you could escape the all-Ravens-all-the-time atmosphere these days by clicking your way here.

How could I possibly ignore this fever (try as I might)? Not with reminders like this one, put together by Douglas Buchanan, a bass in the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and choirmaster of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

He managed to combine Ravens mania with Anglican choral traditions to produce what has to be the most offbeat entry yet in the ever-rising clamor of local pride. So here, recorded in lovely Old St. Paul's, is Buchanan's "Ravenlican Chant," a devout work in three sections: Preambule, Rules of Overtime and Ravens' Fight Song.

If this doesn't clinch the Super Bowl, I don't know what will:


Posted by Tim Smith at 8:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 25, 2013

Re-imagined version of 'Disney's Beauty and the Beast' at the Hippodrome

Judging by the continued obsession contemporary society has with physical appearance, kids and adults alike could use a reminder about the skin-deep, eye-of-the-beholder nature of beauty — and about just how beastly some humans can behave toward those considered inferior.

Those messages are being energetically underlined these days at the Hippodrome, where a pleasant production of the popular musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” has taken up temporary residence.

This is a different show than the one that ran on Broadway for 13 years and previously visited Baltimore. For this fourth national tour, the original creative team has taken a fresh look at everything. There’s been some downsizing here, some trimming there, and a lot of re-imagined visuals.

Folks who remember the initial version are bound to notice, especially ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

January 23, 2013

Midweek Madness takes a look back at the avenging Linda Thorson

For this entry in my award-coveting Midweek Madness series, I could not resist a look back at an actress currently lighting up Baltimore's cultural life.

The wonderful Linda Thorson stars in Everyman Theatre's production of Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County," the first presentation in the company's spiffy new home.

The Canadian-born Thorson plays the pill-popping matriarch of a severely complicated family in Oklahoma, where crisis after crisis comes “sweepin' down the plain.”

I think it's cool to salute a past chapter in Thorson's life, her appearance on the popular TV show "The Avengers." She replaced Diana Rigg as Patrick Macnee's collaborator in this bright spy-fi series in 1968.

To mark Thorson's debut on the show, a promo was released -- and what a promo it is.

If you've seen, or plan to see, the Everyman production, you will enjoy this blast from the past all the more. If you don't, you should still find this little video a fun example of '60s style (which reminds me, when is "Mad Men" coming back?):

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:25 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

January 19, 2013

Everyman Theatre opens its new house with 'August: Osage County'

Families that flay together can’t stay together for long.

That’s just one of the life’s painful little lessons conveyed to searing effect in “August: Osage County,” the 2008 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play by Tracy Letts receiving its Baltimore premiere under the happiest of circumstances -- the inauguration of the much-anticipated Everyman Theatre on West Fayette Street.

The vibrant production provides a fitting display for the handsome new facility, where the Empire, Palace and Town theaters once operated. (On opening night, a hum, apparently from the lighting grid overhead, proved a minor distraction.)

The most substantial asset of the venue is a proper stage, capable of handling the three-level set required by “August,” a set that would have been impossible at the company’s previous, low-ceilinged venue.

Resident scenic designer Daniel Ettinger has taken full advantage of the opportunity, deftly evoking the aging home 60 miles from Tulsa, where the three-hour-plus saga of the Weston Family can unfold seamlessly. And what a saga.

Letts conjures up a nightmare of family troubles -- suicide, infidelity, alcoholism, drug addiction, dirty middle-aged men, smoldering grudges. As one of the members observes: "Thank God we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed."

The Westons put the “diss” and the “shun” in dysfunction, but, in a weird way, they put the "fun" in it, too. You end up laughing through some pretty rough clawing and carping, thanks to the playwright’s brilliant flair for dark comedy.

But you walk away with some awfully sobering, conflicted thoughts. With each twist of a phrase or turn in a conversation, Letts keeps the audience constantly off-balance, so that, in the end, we have as little to hold onto as the characters do.

The play requires a ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 4:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

January 18, 2013

Katori Hall's play about MLK gets effective production from Center Stage

No matter how many times it is replayed, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Memphis, April 3, 1968, retains uncommon, chilling power. “Longevity has its place,” he said. “But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.”

In more ways than one, that sentiment haunts “The Mountaintop,” Katori Hall’s provocative, fanciful play about King’s final hours in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel.

Since its modest Broadway run in 2011, the play has picked up steam. Several productions are slated around the country this season, including a satisfying one currently on the boards at Center Stage with a terrific cast.

It is easy to quibble with Hall’s concept, especially the turn in the plot that the press has been asked not to discuss, for the benefit of unsuspecting audiences.

Even before that point, however, ....

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Posted by Tim Smith at 4:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

January 17, 2013

Single Carrot presents annual 'Murder Ink' reading

The sixth annual reading of the City Paper's "Murder Ink" column by Anna Ditkoff -- a chronicle of the year's murders in Baltimore -- will be presented by Single Carrot Theatre at 6 p.m. Saturday.

As the company is quick to point out, "There’s no pretending that reading about these desperate, often grisly crimes will bring back any of the victims, but it does bring a little perspective to what is clearly an epidemic."

A panel discussion with Ditkoff and others follows the reading, which will be held at Single Carrot's temporary home at the former Everyman Theatre location at 1714 N. Charles. Free admission.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

January 16, 2013

A bit of stirring, if inarticulate, Beethoven for your Midweek Madness treat

The European Union has been in the news lately, especially with regard to the UK's continued participation, so I thought I would use this Midweek Madness installment to remind everyone of the joy of brotherhood.

The Union happens to have an anthem that derives from the much-loved finale to Beethoven's noble, stirring Ninth Symphony, with its message of, well, the joy of brotherhood.

How better, then, to underline the advantage of the UK remaining in the harmonious association of nations than a performance of that anthem by the eminent British baritone "Robert Bennington," even if he has a wee bit of trouble with the words:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 15, 2013

Fells Point Corner Theatre stages Tracy Letts' 'Superior Donuts'

Thanks to a little serendipity, the extraordinary American playwright Tracy Letts is getting a double dose of attention in Baltimore.

On the boards at the new Everyman Theatre is his magnum opus, “August: Osage County,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play in 2008. That year also saw the premiere of his next stage work, “Superior Donuts,” which is getting a workout from Fells Point Corner Theatre.

With its Eugene O’Neill-worthy length and pileup of issues tearing at an Oklahoma family, “August” stands as one of the most inspired, arresting new plays in years. “Donuts,” a mix of comedy and drama set in a gritty Chicago neighborhood, is obviously not the superior work.

Still, there’s considerable craftsmanship here. Letts peoples his play with distinctive characters who reveal enough surprising traits and emotions to keep things interesting.

You could say this is a kinder, gentler sort of “American Buffalo.” There’s a run-down doughnut shop instead of the junk shop in the David Mamet classic, and a similarly hapless owner who comes to rely on a young neighborhood guy with his own problems. Dreams of a better life, and intrusions of reality and violence, figure in both pieces.

But Letts allows sunshine to penetrate the grimy blinds on the front door. At heart, his work is about ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

January 9, 2013

For Midweek Madness, a refresher on how not to conduct an interview

Failures to communicate are everywhere. You've no doubt heard radio or TV interviews, for example, where the interviewer seems to be preoccupied with preparing the next question, or following a script, that he/she doesn't actually hear the interviewee's answer to the one just asked.

As a public service, I devote this Midweek Madness installment to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

An entertaining "Mousetrap" from the Vagabond Players

By now, 60 long years after Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” opened in London, the whodunit is more of a fixture than a stage show.

It apparently cannot ever be stopped on that side of The Pond, where it has surpassed the 25,000th performance mark and still holds firmly onto the record as the world’s longest-running play.

On our shores, the work never became such an institution, but it still continues to attract attention now and then, particularly from community theater groups.

One of them, the Vagabond Players, has a production running now that finds decent mileage still left in this juicy little murder mystery set in a country guest house where coincidence and cunning collide one snowy night.

Those who have never seen “The Mousetrap” — and have not peeked on the Web to learn the final plot twist — should have the best time. But even those in the know will likely find enough to enjoy.

The Vagabond staging is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

January 7, 2013

Premiere of 'Diner,' the musical, delayed again

The musical version of Barry Levinson's "Diner," the much-admired 1982 movie about longtime buddies in Baltimore, is going to take longer to reach Broadway. The previously scheduled April 10 opening has been postponed until the fall, the New York Times reports.

Seems that "Diner," a collaboration between Levinson and Sheryl Crow, who has written the songs for the show, needs more time to be developed and, especially, to raise money for its $9.5 million budget.

The musical percolated in workshop form in New York last fall, a process adversely affected by ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 6, 2013

Hippodrome's 2013-14 season to include 'Book of Mormon,' 'War Horse'

The Broadway phenomenon known as “The Book of Mormon,” a musical from the creators of “South Park” that became a runaway hit two years ago and shows no signs of flagging, will reach Baltimore next season as part of the Hippodrome’s 10th anniversary.

Joining “Mormon,” which took the Tony Award for best musical in 2011, will be the Tony winner for best play that year, “War Horse,” a show celebrated for its inventive use of life-sized puppetry. One of last year’s big Tony accumulators, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a play with music based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is also on the Hippodrome lineup.

“It’s a strong, subscriber-friendly season, appropriate for our 10th anniversary,” said Jeff Daniel, president of the Hippodrome at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. “It’s going to be hard to beat. We’ve even got a great holiday show to balance it all.”

That would be ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

January 3, 2013

Center Stage offers pay-what-you-can performance for MLK Day

Center Stage welcomes the New Year with Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," a play set in the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis on April 3, 1968. The main characters are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a maid who stops by his room.

The production, directed by Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, starts previews next week, opens Jan. 16 and runs through Feb. 24. The run coincides with MLK Day on Jan. 21, so the company is adding a performance that night to mark the occasion. Pricing will be different, too -- there's a pay-what-you-can policy for 100 tickets.

In addition to the performance of the play, there will be ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

January 2, 2013

As 'Downton Abbey' returns, a refresher on British social/gender etiquette

With "Downton Abbey" about to start Season 3 on these shores this weekend, taking us once more into the rarefied world of British society and grand meals around elegantly appointed tables, your ever-thoughtful Midweek Madness featurette would like to offer this quick refresher on the rules of social etiquette, especially those pertaining to the gentler sex.

As you know, the women in "Downton Abbey" sometimes forget their place, which can have devastating consequences for them. Seeing this on the telly might inspire women on this side of The Pond to pursue a similar, dangerous course.

The instructional video you are about to see reminds us all of the proper ways of society, so that we may be fully prepared if we ever get a coveted dinner invitation from true British gentry:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 1, 2013

A spiritual to mark the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation

On New Year's Day, 150 years ago, American history was forever changed when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

As we all know too well, that document alone did not free any slaves, but it was a crucial step that made clear the ultimate goal of the Civil War.

If you have seen Steven Spielberg's riveting film "Lincoln," you've probably been freshly consumed, as I have, by thoughts about this chapter of our country's past.

I know it sounds superficial, but the experience of the movie has made me feel the weight of today's anniversary more, has brought into sharper focus the significance and boldness of the Emancipation Proclamation -- and the subsequent effort to build on that step by fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, which "Lincoln" depicts so vividly.

To take note of this New Year's milestone in history, the deep, soul-stirring voice of Marian Anderson seems appropriate, even essential. Here is her recording of the spiritual "My Lord, What a Morning":

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

December 31, 2012

For New Year's Eve, a musical toast to brotherhood and sisterhood

I can get pretty sentimental on the last day of the year, and I thought some of you might be the same. So here's a little sentiment for New Year's Eve, courtesy of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus."

There is a wonderful moment in Act 2 when all of the mirth and slapstick of the operetta gives way to something gentle and, I think, quite genuine.

This number, "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein," sends a message that boils down to: Let's all promise to get along tomorrow after having so much fun tonight -- a message perfect for a New Year's Eve toast. This scene inspired Strauss to exceptional melodic heights -- the ultimate peak in his greatest work for the stage.

I've posted two versions here, because you (OK, I) can never get enough of this gorgeous music. I also thought that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

December 26, 2012

Midweek Madness keeps that special holiday feeling flowing

For your Midweek Madness drollery, I have -- yes -- once again gone to the SCTV well, this time to pull up a holiday-theme gem. You may thank me later.

Here's the attempted filming of promo for a 'Liberace' Christmas Special with a very temperamental 'Orson Welles' as guest star:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

December 21, 2012

'Irving Berlin's White Christmas' hits holiday spot at Kennedy Center

Anyone interested in time travel need not settle for an episode of “Dr. Who.” You can be whisked back to the 1950s in a flash just by catching the production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the Kennedy Center.

You have to check a lot of baggage first, though.

For a start, you can’t take aboard any prejudices against mid-century musicals with snowflake-thin, surprise-free story lines and songs that do nothing to advance the plot or provide character insights. You also can’t carry on your usual cynical antipathy to cornball humor, tap-dancing routines or precocious kids onstage.

Follow those simple instructions, and you should have a pleasant trip.

It’s reassuring to know that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

A few more thoughts on 'Billy Elliot: The Musical'

As someone who loved the 2000 movie "Billy Elliot," I had doubts that it could be turned into a stage musical.

I figured too much of the gritty mining town atmosphere of the original would be lost, for a start.

And I was suspicious that the many touchy subjects in the story -- masculinity, sexual orientation, the value of the arts, etc. -- could survive the transformation.

I feared there would be too much watering down, maybe even dumbing down.

Instead, as I was happily reminded this week ... 

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

December 20, 2012

Marriage undergoes volleys in Performance Workshop Theatre's 'Mixed Doubles'

A caption in King Vidor's silent classic from 1928, "The Crowd," reads: "Marriage isn't a word. It's a sentence."

The couples in "Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage," a multi-playwright piece from 1969 enjoying an effective revival at Performance Workshop Theatre, have all been altered in some way by the life-term aspect of matrimony, the weight of that whole for-better-or-worse thing.

It even affects the first twosome to appear, in "A Man's Best Friend" by James Saunders. Newlyweds Jackie and Pete, are still on a train heading toward their honeymoon, but already experiencing communication blips.

Pete's voice is prone to stammer, his foot to tap mindlessly. And he will do anything to change the topic of conversation, which Jackie keeps trying to steer toward sensual matters.

Over the course of eight short plays by British authors, "Mixed Doubles" provides a journey through the marital state, from first night to twilight years.

It's an often amusing view -- often uncomfortable, too, in the way it can cut close to the bone. By the time the aged couple in the final scene sits in a cemetery, talking in circles about tombstones and kippers, it's clear that after "I do" can come an awful lot of "I don't."

Things might have looked much different had there been more than one woman represented among the authors of this "entertainment." A skewed perspective seems unavoidable under such circumstances.

Still, the two sides of each duo depicted in these intriguing plays get an airing, in one way or another. And the ultimate take-home message is at least vaguely reassuring -- people may marry, or stay married, for the wrong reasons, but ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

'Billy Elliot: The Musical' a welcome holiday visitor at the Hippodrome

It’s a particularly appropriate time to see “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” which has leaped into the Hippodrome for a welcome holiday visit. And I'm not just talking about the Christmas scene in Act 2.

Although the principal story in this Tony Award-winning show — a young boy’s unexpected journey into the world of ballet — remains front-and-center, equally compelling plot lines about unions and working-class solidarity jump out with an extra kick right now.

From the opening minutes of “Billy Elliot,” the audience is plunged into the tensions in an English mining town in 1984, when a strike is called to protest moves by Margaret Thatcher’s government against the coal industry.

That tension, which generates some of the most visceral music in Elton John’s score, seems uncomfortably relevant, given the emotional battles just fought in Michigan over legislation targeting unions. And when, by the musical’s close, the defeated strikers sense the extent of their loss, Baltimoreans may well find themselves thinking about the depressing saga of Sparrows Point.

The ability to touch multiple nerves is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:26 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

December 19, 2012

For Midweek Madness, one more chorus of 'Feliz Navidad,' Bette Davis-style

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy Christmas song.

Yes, you adorable Midweek Madness fans, I could not resist an encore of "Feliz Navidad," as the Yuletide approaches. And not just any "Feliz Navidad," mind you, but an interpretation to end all interpretations of this endless, annoying song.

This goes especially well with a martini:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

December 18, 2012

Hippodrome pursuing collaboration with Pennsylvania Ballet

The much-respected Pennsylvania Ballet may travel to Baltimore for a couple weeks every year for a residency at the Hippodrome Theatre. This collaborative project, which could start as early as next season, is being pursued by Hippodrome president Jeff Daniel.

"We should be doing more collaborations," Daniel said. "We should be an arts chamber of commerce for Baltimore. But this is not a done deal. I think I'm ahead of my skis. It is going to take ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

December 17, 2012

Center Stage's Kwame Kwei-Armah receives OBE from Prince of Wales

Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of Center Stage, was at Buckingham Palace last Thursday to be presented with the Order at of the British Empire from the Prince of Wales.

The official investiture came six months after the announcement that Kwei-Armah had been included on the list of the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honors.

His work as a playwright, director and actor has long been admire in his native Britain, and he has been winning ardent fans on this side of the Atlantic as well.

He is now in his second season at the Center Stage helm.

The OBE, established in 1917, is bestowed for distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services, and charitable organizations.

PHOTO: WPA Pool/Getty Images

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

December 12, 2012

Midweek Madness feels the need for a little Christmas now

Yes, I know it's way past midday on Midweek Madness day as I post this. So sue me. I had stuff to do. Big, important stuff. And at least two boxes of bonbons to get through.

To lift your spirits, how about a little Christmas now? Oy, could we all use a little Christmas now.

I probably shouldn't have picked sharing this clip, since it really isn't quite awful enough to be thoroughly laughable -- well, maybe it is, at that -- and because I really do love Lucy (Ricardo more than Ball, if truth be told).

This is the "We Need a Little Christmas" scene from "Mame," the film version of the Jerry Herman musical that was based on the book, play and film "Auntie Mame." Now everyone knows that the "Auntie Mame" film is a masterpiece that cannot be bettered, thanks to the divine Rosalind Russell, but the musical does have its points.

Still, if you're going to do a movie of the musical, shouldn't you at least cast it with a star who can sing? Lucy gives it her all, I suppose. And, every now and then, she does ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

December 7, 2012

London production of 'I Stand Corrected' to be streamed live at Center Stage

Late-breaking: Center Stage is offering a free live stream of a production from London's Ovalhouse Theatre on Saturday afternoon. (See trailer below.)

"I Stand Corrected," by playwright Mojisola Adebayo and South African dancer Mamela Nyamza, is described by Time Out London as "a physical theatre piece ... about two black African lesbian lovers.

"Created as a response to the epidemic of 'corrective' rapes of gay women in South Africa, as well as the anti-gay marriage lobby in Britain, the piece uses text, dance, music and comedy to tell its story. Nyamza is an unconventional choreographer, using her background in ballet, contemporary and African dance to take on political themes.

The play will be streamed into the lobby of Center Stage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free.

Here's the trailer:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

December 5, 2012

Single Carrot Theatre plans new home in former tire shop

Single Carrot Theatre, which was displaced this season when building code violations forced the closure of Load of Fun on North Avenue, has found a permanent new home in nearby Remington due to open in 2014.

The company will become the first tenant at 2600 N. Howard Street in a building currently housing a tire shop. The location is being renovated by Seawall Development "as a freshly rehabilitated historic building, focused on non-profits, performance, and dining," according to a press release from Single Carrot.

Company artistic director Nathan Cooper said the move "will allow Single Carrot Theatre to expand our programming, to serve a wider audience, and to strengthen the stability of the organization overall."

Plans call for a theater performance space seating just under 100, as well as rehearsal, storage and office spaces -- 6,500 square feet in all.

Seawall partner Evan Morville said that the company "has worked alongside us and selected this building as their new home. We can’t wait to see what they do with the space and for the neighborhood."

The first production is expected to open in early 2014 during the company's seventh season. Single Carrot, which has been a fixture in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, opened the 2012-13 season in MICA facilities. This season will continue in the space on Charles Street being vacated this month by Everyman Theatre, which is moving across town.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

For Midweek Madness, a critical look at a bold new 'women's play'

I thought something theatrical would be nice for Midweek Madness this time, especially since I thought of a clip that involves one of my jobs -- theater critic.

Here is the erudite, superbly named reviewer Bill Needle going after a new "women's play" written by and starring Libby Wolfson, the host of a fabulous SCTV chat show called "You" (which is really about her).

The title of the play is truly inspired, you have to admit: "I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing It on Right, and No Guy's Gonna Tell Me That It Ain't!" And the production? Clearly, no expense was spared for this wonderful premiere at a classy dinner theater.

In my professional experience, I can honestly say that I have never seen any theatrical experience to equal this one (and don't miss the ad at the end for Libby's next episode of "You"):

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

November 30, 2012

'Bus Stop' at Center Stage a revival worth pulling over for

The snowbound folks in Grace’s Diner travel quite a distance, emotionally and physically, while cooped up for a long night in 1955 somewhere outside Kansas City. Things won’t necessarily be smooth for all of them once the roads are finally cleared.

What transpires in that nondescript roadside eatery provides potent fuel for “Bus Stop,” the classic dramedy by William Inge that has received a welcome and satisfying revival from Center Stage.

Inge had a knack for generating extraordinary theater out of ordinary people, places, passions and, especially, illusions. In this case, he brings together well-known types — cowboy, sheriff, waitress, alcoholic and the like — and gives them fresh and unexpected turns, all the while avoiding easy sentimentality or blatant melodrama.

On the surface, “Bus Stop” ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

November 29, 2012

'Million Dollar Quartet' rocks and rolls into the Hippodrome

Folks of a certain age — you know, the kind whose only exposure to public television occurs during fundraising programs featuring aging rock-’n’-rollers — are the obvious target audience for “Million Dollar Quartet,” the jukebox musical now at the Hippodrome.

But this high-energy homage to four giants who emerged in the 1950s is eager to grab anyone else along the way.

Even those rare souls who never fell under the spell of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash or Carl Perkins, and who are usually resistant to the three-chord stasis and banal lyrics of so much early rock may find their pulse quickening slightly and their feet inching toward tap mode.

OK, so I’m talking about me, as ’50s-averse as they come. And I can vouch for how this show can win you over, not with anything as fancy as an honest-to-goodness plot or cliche-free dialogue, but simply with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

November 26, 2012

For Giving Tuesday, inspirational video from Wuppertaler Kurrende boy's choir

If you haven't heard, a fast-spreading grassroots movement has led to the launching of Giving Tuesday, a welcome followup to Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other buy-buy-buy events. As Auntie Mame might say, the message of this one is give, give, give -- to charities.

Nonprofits in the arts community are understandably getting involved, and I certainly hope you will consider supporting your favorite orchestras, opera companies, theaters and the like. But, since it would be unfair for me to single out any such groups, I thought I would suggest something neutral for Giving Tuesday.

I found this great video of the Wuppertaler Kurrende, a boy's choir in Germany, in a performance last week on Universal Children's Day in support of the International Children's Fund.

This should put you in the mood for giving, no matter which organization you choose to help:

Continue reading "For Giving Tuesday, inspirational video from Wuppertaler Kurrende boy's choir " »

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Cyber Monday deals from Center Stage, Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, more

Performing arts organizations in various places are getting into the act on Cyber Monday.

Locally, that includes Center Stage, which is offering a Cyber Monday enticement that has "bargain" stamped all over it -- two Flex Passes for the price of one.

OK, so you have to buy two of these two-for-one passes, but that still means a significant savings, since you end up with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

November 20, 2012

Arena Stage revives Lerner and Loewe's 'My Fair Lady'

Arena Stage has established an admirable track record for putting classic musicals back into the spotlight, as reconfirmed in recent seasons with imaginative takes on “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man.”

Now comes “My Fair Lady.” This production isn’t an unqualified success — a curious bit of miscasting and some cramped, uninteresting choreography take a toll — but it provides a welcome reminder of the masterpiece status of this 1956 Lerner and Loewe hit, which is as rich in plot as in music.

Part of the work’s success is clearly attributable to the source material, G.B. Shaw’s brilliant “Pygmalion.” But what counts the most is how the creators built on that material, how the well-crafted songs add so many telling layers to the story.

Arena artistic director Molly Smith clearly appreciates those qualities. There’s an honesty and affection in her approach here. And, just as ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

November 14, 2012

Women front and center at Fells Point area theaters

Fells Point community theater companies have women squarely in the spotlight these days.

At the Vagabond Players, the focus is on a mother’s struggles with mental illness. At Fells Point Corner Theatre, the close scrutiny involves a group of women recalling their lives — and their clothes. Both ventures yield rewards.

“Next to Normal,” the pathbreaking Broadway musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey that earned a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize a couple years ago, presents formidable challenges. The topic, for a start. Even with dollops of light and dark humor, this is still an unflinching examination of an unhinged mind.

If you can find a cast capable of bringing out the drama strongly, you have to make sure the actors can also sing up a storm, since this mostly-sung show is built on something like three dozen rock (more or less) songs.

The Vagabond production, smoothly directed by Eric J. Potter and efficiently designed by Maurice G. “Moe” Conn, features ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

For Midweek Madness, Daltrey, Townshend, The Who, a worthy charity, and Streisand video

Excuse the shameless name-dropping, but I had lunch this week with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend.

OK, a whole bunch of other members of the National Press Club and their guests did, too. But, hey, I was at the head table, so there.

The main reason why the surviving original members of The Who stopped by the club the day before their Washington concert was to discuss a charity they are heavily and admirably involved in -- Teen Cancer America. (You can watch the whole thing, thanks to C-Span.) 

The project is based on a successful program Daltrey and Townshend support in the UK, Teen Cancer Trust, which helps provide dedicated spaces for teen cancer patients in hospitals. This allows teens to be grouped together in their own area, complete with common kitchens.

As Daltrey, sporting a terrific Victorian-influenced outfit, explained at the luncheon, teens "don't want teddy bears, and they don't want to be with adults." Being a teen is difficult enough; being a teen with a major illness adds extra layers of stress.

Daltrey said that a soon-to-be-released study in the UK will report ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

November 12, 2012

For Veteran's Day: John Kander's 'Letter from Sullivan Ballou'

Over the weekend, I heard soprano Angela Meade sing John Kander's affecting setting of the "Letter from Sullivan Ballou," penned in 1861 by a soldier to his wife just before the Battle of Bull Run, where he was killed.

I wanted to share the experience of this remarkable work today, Veteran's Day, a reminder of the sacrifice so many gave made over the years in service to their country. Here is a performance sung by Renne Fleming:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

November 8, 2012

The show goes back on at Everyman Theatre after water main break

The show will go back on at Everyman Theatre.

Wednesday's performance of the endearing comedy "Heroes" had to be canceled because of the dastardly water main break on Charles Street, but Thursday's will take place as scheduled.

And just to make up for the inconvenience of continued street closures in the neighborhood, the company is offering half-off tickets to six performances, Thursday through Sunday.

As for access to Everyman while Charles Street is shut down, the theater recommends using the Central Parking Lot on Lanvale Street.

PHOTO BY STAN BAROUH

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

November 7, 2012

Water main break forces Everyman Theatre cancellation

This just in from Everyman Theatre:

Due to the water main break on Charles Street, Wednesday's 7:30 PM performance of "Heroes" has been cancelled. The company will contact ticket holders about exchanges as soon as the box office can re-open.

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

Rep Stage revives another neglected gem by J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie may only be remembered for creating “Peter Pan,” but not if Rep Stage can do anything about it.

Two years ago, the company effectively dug up two rare one-acters by Barrie, “The New Word” and “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals,” both from the World War I era. This month, Rep Stage’s 20th anniversary season continues with another thoughtful revival, “Mary Rose,” written a year after that horrid war, when wounds and memories were still very fresh, tainting everyone and everything.

"You know how just a touch of frost may stop the growth of a plant and yet leave it blooming? It has sometimes seemed to me as if a cold finger had once touched my Mary Rose,” says her mother early in the play.

That chilling description of the title character must have hit audiences hard in 1920 when the play was premiered. So many people would have had images in their heads and hearts of the men who remained perpetually young, captured in the last photos taken of them before they headed to the fatal trenches of France.

Although the war is not front and center in “Mary Rose,” it’s always there. One of the first characters to appear is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage
        

Why I'm in love with Barbara Cook

Don't tell my partner, but I'm wildly in love with Barbara Cook.

So much so, in fact, that I felt if it would be wiser to wait a little while before writing about the singer's concert Saturday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. That way I wouldn't just gush all over the place. No such luck. Stand by for gushing.

Miss Cook, who just turned 85, was in marvelous, heartwarming form in this long overdue return to Baltimore. She may not have looked spry as she walked onstage, with the aid of a cane. And she sat for the whole concert, due to back problems.

But that was as far as the age thing went. And, really, the sitting only made the concert seem more intimate, as if we had all been invited to Miss Cook's Upper West Side apartment for a little music.

Of course the soprano's voice has changed over time, but there remains an unwavering gleam in the timbre. And, as I have been reminded each time I have heard her live, the essence beneath that tonal surface is the same, revealing a soul that continues to zero in effortlessly and compellingly on the contour of a melody, the truth of a lyric.

The program -- backed by the suave and subtle combo of Ted Rosenthal (piano), Lawrence Feldman (woodwinds), Baltimore native Jay Leonhart (bass), Warren Odze (percussion) -- was drawn largely from Miss Cook's latest album, "Lover Man."

That release makes a worthy addition to her discography, but ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Midweek Madness: A derailment at the opera

Last weekend, Lyric Opera Baltimore's season-opener was Puccini's "La Boheme." With that delicious music still in my head, I figured there just might be a way to work it into the next installment of Midweek Madness.

That's just what I have done, thanks to a clip from a night at the Zurich Opera House when an ever so light derailment occurred during the tenor aria "Che gelida manina."

Before I get to that, let me hasten to add that the Baltimore production did not make me think disaster; it was a perfectly respectable venture. There were a few slips at the performance I attended, but nothing close to the one you are about to hear.

Remember that many a tenor tackling "Boheme" asks to transpose the aria down to avoid the high C required, and that means the whole orchestra has to transpose with him. I have a funny feeling somebody forgot during this memorable performance in Zurich. Brace yourself:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

November 2, 2012

'War Horse' works its theatrical magic at the Kennedy Center

A flick of a tail, the slightest turn of a head, and the horse named Joey has the audience in the palm of his hand.

Never mind that you can see three guys manipulating the various body parts on this giant puppet, the star of the London and Broadway hit “War Horse” now at the Kennedy Center and destined for Baltimore’s Hippodrome next season.

Within seconds, you don’t really see Joey’s manipulators, only the life-like results. Would that you couldn’t see each turn and manipulative tug of the plot a mile off. But no point dwelling on that.

“War Horse,” adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel adapted by Nick Stafford in association with Handspring Puppet Company, doesn’t aim for subtlety or layering. This big, old-fashioned, World War I saga delivers all of its messages about family, friends and fidelity in straightforward ways that young theater-goers will grasp quickly and, no doubt, heartily.

Even older folks who can’t help but notice how the melodramatic elements heat up as intensely as the battles scenes, or who start squirming from the pile-up of cliches and it’s-a-small-world coincidences, are apt to be won over, probably even misty-eyed, in the end. The show is, ...

 

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

November 1, 2012

Everyman Theatre's 'Heroes' an endearing adventure

The three veterans in “Heroes,” Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of a wry comedy by Gerald Sibleyras, cling to their little terrace at the old soldiers’ home in France as fiercely as they once held their ground against the Germans during World War I.

This is their domain, where they can avoid the glance of the facility’s head nun, and, more importantly, where they can see the promise of a better world — just beyond the poplars on a distant ridge.

“Heroes,” perfectly cast and sensitively directed by Donald Hicken, makes an apt choice for Everyman Theatre’s final production at its longtime Charles Street venue before moving to new digs downtown. Themes of memory and adventure run through the piece.

James Fouchard’s simple set conveys ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

Center Stage presents 'Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe'

Center Stage opened its 50th anniversary season last month with “An Enemy of the People,” a heavy-handed, often dull play that an uneven cast could not quite enrich.

That has now been followed by “The Complete Fictional — Utterly True — Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe,” a heavy-handed, often dull play that a dynamic, well-matched cast cannot quite enrich.

It’s really a little too soon to worry about where Center Stage is headed, but artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah’s first two choices for the 2012-2013 lineup give one pause.

There was, of course, an obvious reason to consider “Enemy,” Arthur Miller’s Ibsen-inspired examination of politics and ethics, during an election season.

Likewise, it's understandable to focus on Poe, given the master of the macabre’s strong ties to Baltimore. But “The Final Strange Tale” seems ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:25 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

October 31, 2012

Midweek Madness: Something scary in 3-D for Halloween

OK, brace yourself. It's Halloween, and Midweek Madness wants to scare the heck out of you.

How about some scenes from the 3-D classic, "Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes"? Even the title has me quaking:

Continue reading "Midweek Madness: Something scary in 3-D for Halloween" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

October 30, 2012

More theater cancellations: Center Stage, Everyman

The storm-related cancellations continue to roll in.

Center Stage will not present "The Completely Fictional—Utterly True—Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe" Tuesday night, but will resume normal scheduling Wednesday. Tuesday's ticket holders will be contacted by the Center Stage box office to arrange for exchanges.

Everyman Theatre has also canceled Tuesday's scheduled performance of "Heroes." In this case, too, ticket holders will be contacted by the box office to make exchanges.

PHOTO BY RICHARD ANDERSON

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

'Wicked' performance Tuesday night at Hippodrome canceled

Another performance has been placed on the post-storm casualty list: "Wicked" will not go onstage Tuesday night at the Hippodrome as scheduled.

Ticket-holders may exchange for Wednesday or Thursday performances this week, or receive refunds, via Ticketmaster (410-547-7328) or other point of purchase.

PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

October 26, 2012

With Edgar Allan Poe on my mind, sharing a musical version of 'Annabel Lee'

This week, "The Completely Fictional -- Utterly True -- Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe" opened at Center Stage, offering a hefty reminder of Baltimore's most iconic former resident.

I will have more to say about the play shortly. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a song that started running through my head anew.

It's my favorite musical setting of Poe-etry -- "Annabel Lee," by the English composer Henry Leslie.

I think of it as a perfect example of the Victorian drawing room ballad and an awfully effective treatment of Poe's bittersweet words, with a well-crafted melody that works its way quickly into the ear and the telltale 6/8 meter long associated with the sea. Seems like it should be much better known.

I don't think the song could be more elegantly sung than it is here by the late Robert Tear, accompanied at the piano by Andre Previn:

Continue reading "With Edgar Allan Poe on my mind, sharing a musical version of 'Annabel Lee'" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

October 24, 2012

Midweek Madness: Cheeky Chico

I don't know about you, but I really, really, really need some levity this midweek point. So how about some pianistic diversion from that master of digital insouciance, Chico Marx?

Continue reading "Midweek Madness: Cheeky Chico" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

October 16, 2012

Review: Iron Crow Theatre premieres Megan Gogerty's 'Bad Panda'

The phrase "all aboard" gets an amusing twist in "Bad Panda," the Megan Gogerty play receiving its premiere from Iron Crow Theatre. Then again, everything gets a twist in this tale of sexual awakening, procreation and preservation.

Set in a private animal reserve, run by unseen wardens ("the royal they"), the plot concerns the last two pandas on earth and their attempt to mate, an attempt hampered ever so slightly by a decidedly offbeat case of opposites attracting -- the male panda becomes infatuated with a male crocodile.

Any anthropomorphizing can be dangerous, prone to get too cutesy or gimmicky or both.

Gogerty doesn't entirely avoid those traps, but she ...

Continue reading "Review: Iron Crow Theatre premieres Megan Gogerty's 'Bad Panda'" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

Mayor's Cultural Town Meeting to be held Wednesday

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will hold a Cultural Town Meeting, presented in conjunction with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the American Visionary Art Museum.

The event, open to the public at no charge, will include a keynote address by Randy Cohen, vice president of Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts, discussing the report released in June, Arts & Economic Prosperity IV: The Economic Impact of Nonprofits Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in the City of Baltimore.

The public is invited to submit questions for the mayor in advance via the Cultural Alliance or Twiiter (#BmoreTownHall).

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

October 12, 2012

'Wicked' cast members in benefit for Moveable Feast, Broadway Cares

Cast members from the dynamic national touring production of "Wicked" running through Nov. 4 at the Hippodrome will head across town one night next week after a performance to take part in a great cause -- a fundraiser for Baltimore's Moveable Feast and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

The cabaret, "Witches' Night Out," is set for at 11:30 p.m. Thursday at Grand Central in Mount Vernon.

Company members have a long history of lending their support to charitable causes, raising more than $2 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and local community AIDS charities during the seven years "Wicked" has been touring.

With "Witches Night Out," the performers have devised a showcase to display their beyond-Oz talents.

Admission to the Grand Central show is $20 ($40 for front row "VIP" seating), available at the door, which open at 11 p.m. Tickets are tax-deductible; all proceeds will benefit the charities.

A live auction will also be part of the event. Goodies being auctioned off include backstage visits to the Hippodrome to see Elphaba get her green coating applied, and a chance to be have your very own green-over from a "Wicked" makeup artist.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

October 11, 2012

Review: Single Carrot presents politically charged play by Caryl Churchill

It's quite the political season onstage in Baltimore. Two plays provide extremely different experiences while striking a few of the same chords about government, corruption, duplicity.

"An Enemy of the People," the vintage Ibsen/Miller drama at Center Stage, takes a couple hours-plus and lots of long paragraphs to make its loaded points. Over at Single Carrot Theatre (it's temporary MICA home, that is), Caryl Churchill's "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" from 2006 packs its hefty sermonizing into about 45 minutes of single words and sentence fragments.

Neither work is entirely satisfying in structure and content, and both tend to hammer their points heavily. But the compact, two-character Churchill piece does so in a most intriguing manner, adding a layer of sexuality to the discourse.

The playwright focuses on -- takes aim at, most of the time -- the United States and its policies, using a character named Sam (as in Uncle) as a stand-in. Another man, called Jack in the first version of the play, leaves his wife and children to live with Sam.

Concerned that audiences envisioned the play as a reference to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

October 9, 2012

Sarah Brightman to perform at Modell/Lyric in February

Sarah Brightman, the popular, silvery voiced soprano and actress, will give a concert Feb. 19 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

Brightman, who originated the role of Christine in her then-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera," went on to become an international star of the stage and of recordings (more than 30 million sold).

Tickets to the concert go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster.com and by phone (800-745-3000).

Brightman's Baltimore stop is part of a world tour tied to a new album, “Dreamchaser,” scheduled for release in January.

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

October 5, 2012

Review: 'Wicked' tour features strong cast in its return to Baltimore

Equal parts nostalgia and hipness, satire and sentiment, one-liners and philosophy, the hit musical “Wicked” remains a potent brew. Bewitching, even.

This tale-spin about life in Oz, before that rude girl from Kansas crashed the place, is neither quite as profound as its most ardent champions would aver, nor quite as empty as its detractors have charged. But the work’s component parts certainly come together snappily in ways that create entertainment writ large.

“Wicked,” which has been aging nicely on Broadway for nine years and touring almost that long, first visited Baltimore in 2007. The second national tour has settled into the Hippodrome for a month-long residency, giving off remarkably fresh vibes.

Nothing screams “road show” here. Newcomers should find this production a worthy introduction; “Wicked” groupies ought to find plenty here to keep them engaged one more time.

The plot, adapted by Winnie Holzman from the Gregory Maguire novel, presents a back-story for the peculiarly green woman we last saw in a puddle — the Wicked Witch of the West, who tried so darn hard for the return of those jeweled slippers in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”

Various details we accept as gospel from that movie get some interesting twists (better to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

October 3, 2012

Impressive production of 'Breaking the Code' from Performance Workshop Theatre

On the tomb of Leonard Matlovich, a gay Vietnam veteran who fought unsuccessfully in the mid-1970s to remain in uniform while out of the closet, there is an inscription: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

I thought of that line while attending Performance Workshop Theatre’s impressive production of “Breaking the Code,” Hugh Whitemore’s play about math genius Alan Turing.

When he worked for the British government at hush-hush Bletchley Park during World War II, Turing was hailed for saving thousands of men by deciphering the German’s Enigma machine, which gave the Allies crucial advantages.

But in 1952, Turing, who by then was a major pioneer in computer science at Manchester University, was arrested for a homosexual liaison. In lieu of jail, he was ordered to take estrogen injections. Death, from an apparent suicide, followed two years later. He was 41.

There is no end of irony in the story of a man breaking one code to approbation and another to condemnation. There’s an uncomfortable twinge of tragedy, too.

Whitemore gives us a decidedly sympathetic portrait of Turing as a naïve genius, perpetually awed by ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

October 2, 2012

Single Carrot to move into Everyman Theatre space this winter

Single Carrot Theatre has found a venue solution for the remainder of its 2012-2013 season.

As you will recall, the surprise closing of Load of Fun Gallery, where the company made its home (along with several other artistic tenants), left Single Carrot scrambling for a place to present its productions.

MICA came to the rescue for this weekend's season-opener, Caryl Churchill's "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?"

For the remainder of the company's sixth season, Single Carrot will occupy the Charles Street home of Everyman Theatre, which is heading across town this winter to a newly restored space on Fayette Street.

"We're looking to start our move in January to what we're referring to as the soon-to-be-former Everyman Theatre," said Single Carrot artistic director Nathan Cooper. "We'll be moving our entire operations there. This is a nice way to keep a performance venue in Station North, which I think is good for the whole neighborhood. We're calling it ...

Continue reading "Single Carrot to move into Everyman Theatre space this winter" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:24 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre, Single Carrot Theatre
        

September 30, 2012

'The Government Inspector' still has clout in Shakespeare Theatre staging

More than 175 years after its premiere in St. Petersburg, Gogol's "The Government Inspector" has lost little of its satirical spice.

The play remains almost painfully on target about the way people behave in public office and society; about how some of the least capable among us can end up running, say, education,  health care or the courts.

The Gogol classic also still has a lot of comic mileage left in it, as the Shakespeare Theatre Company underlines in its breezy new production, which uses Jeffrey Hatcher's effective, it sometimes heavy-handed, adaptation.

There's something particularly fun about ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

September 28, 2012

Strand Theater Company premieres Dylan Brody's 'Mother, May I'

Ellen Grunman dominates every conversation in her home, finishing other people’s thoughts, and you know she makes all the major decisions.

She’s two-parts Judge Judy, but one-third Mother Harper, the character Vicki Lawrence memorably created on the “Carol Burnett Show” — horribly dismissive of, or simply oblivious to, the things that matter to her husband or children, their accomplishments and yearnings.

Whatever her DNA, Ellen is a deliciously vivid character who forms the sometimes frightening axis in Dylan Brody’s play “Mother, May I,” receiving its world premiere production by the Strand Theater Company.

Brody, an accomplished comedian and writer, has fashioned a work that sets off so many familiar rings that audience members are bound to feel that the playwright somehow has an intimate knowledge of their own mothers. Fathers, too, for that matter.

In the Grunman household, issues have been ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

Center Stage opens 50th season with revival of 'An Enemy of the People'

Walking into the Center Stage production of Arthur Miller’s “An Enemy of the People,” his adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen drama, is sort of like entering a swing state where voters are bombarded round the clock with negative political ads on TV.

Back and forth fly the attacks on honor and integrity, the attempts to claim ownership of the facts, the charges about who will be more responsible with the public’s money, who more likely to cause a tax increase.

Then with a seismic shudder, the whole darn state suddenly tips decisively to one side — and not the side you favor.

The intriguing Center Stage venture, the opening salvo in the company’s 50th anniversary season, seizes on the ever-contemporary issues in the play with an emphasis on media. The media for Ibsen in 1882 and Miller in his 1950 version was newspapers; here, it’s television.

Updated to 1960 and designed with a cool touch by Riccardo Hernandez, the staging suggests a live version of a TV show. That chic set and David Burdick’s “Mad Men”-worthy costumes provide a feast of black and white shades, streaked with the occasional, almost glaring touch of red.

In addition to vintage black-and-white footage shown on monitors and projected on the rear wall, live black-and-white video of the actors is used at key points. All of this visual reinforcement drives home just how, well, black and white the issues are at the heart of the play, which ...

Continue reading "Center Stage opens 50th season with revival of 'An Enemy of the People'" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

September 27, 2012

Hippodrome announces lottery for $25 tickets to 'Wicked'

The Hippodrome will set aside "a limited number of orchestra seats," priced at $25, for the hit Broadway musical "Wicked," which rolls into Baltimore Oct. 3 for a month-long visit.

Regular prices for orchestra seats range from about $65 to $143, so we're talking a bargain here.

The catch: The tickets will be available only on the day of performance and will be distributed by lottery. You have to go to the Hippodrome to participate.

Starting two and a half hours prior to each performance, anxious "Wicked" fans will have 30 minutes to submit their names at the box office, where said names will be placed in a drum.

Two hours prior to the performance, names will be drawn. Winners can buy up to two tickets at $25 each, cash only.

To play in this lottery, bring a valid photo ID., which will be checked when you submit your lottery entry and again if/when you win.

Happy winners may then face another test: How to spend the remaining two hours before curtain time.

PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

September 26, 2012

Midweek Madness: Some Gershwin to enjoy while you're bidin' your time

Since it happens to be George Gershwin's 114th birthday, and since I have been bidin' my time, hopin' for inspiration to feed you pathetic need for another dose of Midweek Madness, I figured, what the hey -- why not Gershwin?

Everything about the number "Bidin' My Time" from the movie version of "Girl Grazy" is perfection -- words, music, Judy Garland's delicious phrasing and facial expressions, her equally engaging cowhand companions, the subtle arrangement, the droll choreography.

Makes me smile every time. I hope it does the same for you:

Continue reading "Midweek Madness: Some Gershwin to enjoy while you're bidin' your time" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

September 25, 2012

Single Carrot Theatre secures MICA facilities for season-opener

Single Carrot Theatre, shut out of its regular home at Load of Fun Gallery, has made a safe landing nearby.

The company will present its delayed season-opening production of Caryl Churchill's provocative two-actor play "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" at facilities of the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The show will open Oct. 5 in Falvey Hall at the Brown Center on W. Mount Royal Ave., then move Oct. 12 to the new auditorium in MICA's Studio Center on W. North Ave., directly across the street from Load of Fun. 

"We cannot express how thankful we are to all the people who helped make this happen," said Elliott Rauh, Single Carrot's managing director.

The schedule: 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 6 and 11; 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at Falvey Hall. 8 p.m. Oct. 12, 13, 18-20; 5 p.m. Oct. 14 and 21 at Studio Center. (Note that company's has changed its usual starting times for evening and matinee performances.)

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

Free ticket offer for theater fans; includes Center Stage, Everyman, Iron Crow

The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has organized "Free Night of Theater Baltimore" in October, in conjunction with Free Fall Baltimore, the annual project of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

Several area theaters are setting aside tickets that will be awarded through a registration process. Events at Center Stage, Everyman Theatre, Iron Crow Theatre, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Audrey Herman Spotlighter’s Theatre and Baltimore Performance Kitchen are included in the give-away. More groups and performances may be added.

When you register for the drawing, you can select up to five performances that you are most interested in; winners may receive up to five pairs of tickets. The contest is "intended to give audiences an opportunity to experience new arts organizations," so registrants are being asked to sample the work of companies they haven't visited in the past year.

To have a crack at the freebies, register by Friday (Sept. 28). Winners will be notified via email by Oct. 1.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

September 24, 2012

More from Claire Bloom on career highs, new film, and 'Downton Abbey'

This week, the Baltimore Symphony welcomes one of Britain's finest actresses, Claire Bloom, who will perform the speaking role in Bernstein's "Kaddish." You can read about her views on the symphony and the preparation for it in my Sunday story.

I thought you might enjoy some more from my phone interview with Ms Bloom, who was speaking by phone from her London home.

I asked her about her extraordinary career and her future projects. And I also happened to mention, quite innocently, the hit British show "Downton Abbey," thinking that she might like to join forces with that stellar cast -- oops.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

FAVORITE ACCOMPLISHMENTS

I think I’m most proud of the ...

Continue reading "More from Claire Bloom on career highs, new film, and 'Downton Abbey' " »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:51 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

September 20, 2012

Glass Mind Theatre secures new venue for start of season

Glass Mind Theatre, one of the tenants shut out of the Load of Fun Gallery while renovations are made to that space to comply with city regulations, has secured a venue for its season-opening production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Performances will be held the weekends of Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 at the Autograph Playhouse (9 W. 25th St.) -- probably best known these days as home of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society.

"We are extremely grateful to [Autograph Playhouse] owner Billie Taylor for housing our production, and to our friends at the Mobtown Players, E.M.P. Collective and Area 405 for hosting our rehearsals during the transition," said Sarah Weissman, marketing director at Glass Mind Theatre.

The Shakespeare staging is the first of Glass Mind's "Classics Resketched" season, to be followed by new versions of Chekhov's "Three Sisters " and Sophocles' "Antigone."

The "Midsummer" production will be directed, in her company debut, by D.C-based Elissa Goetschius, former literary manager at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Her take on the play promises to reveal "motives [that] are darker and twistier than you might remember from the last time you saw it."

The production will feature choreography by Sandra Atkinson.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

September 19, 2012

Fells Point Corner Theatre opens season with timely 'Stop Kiss'

As Marylanders prepare to vote on a same-sex marriage referendum, the Baltimore area theater community is thick with plays containing same-sex relationships.

This isn't a case of collusion (arts organizations are hardly known for coordinating their schedules, let alone developing joint agendas), but some folks may suspect a giant, left-wing conspiracy anyway.

Rep Stage just wrapped up its contribution to the subject; Performance Workshop Theatre and Single Carrot Theatre are soon to follow.

Meanwhile, there's Fells Point Corner Theatre, where two women are the center of attention in “Stop Kiss,” Diana Son's 1998 examination of self-discovery and gay-bashing.

Plays with lesbian themes do not appear nearly as frequently as those about gay men, which makes this mostly effective community theater production a particularly welcome addition to the local conversation.

“Stop Kiss,” constructed out of short scenes that move back and forth in time, follows unexpectedly intertwined lives in New York. The result is a sensitive take on issues of sexual identity and attraction.

The plot begins to spin when ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

Midweek Madness: Honkin' with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

It takes too long between each "Madmen" series to get a good '60s fix, so, as a public service, Midweek Madness presents a blast from that fabled era to tide you over.

Yes, I'm talking about Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the quintessential (non-rock) '60s phenomenon. And this version of the giga-hit "Tijuana Taxi" -- well, it's beyond words.

Such choreography, such costumes, such camera angles, such inanity. Just try not to tap your toes, honk your horn, or wiggle your tush:

Continue reading "Midweek Madness: Honkin' with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

September 14, 2012

Closure of Load of Fun Gallery has Single Carrot Theatre seeking new digs

Load of Fun Gallery, a linchpin in the Station North District and a center for visual artists and theater companies, has shut down temporarily after being notified by the city of a zoning violation involving "land use and occupancy."

This has sent Single Carrot Theatre scrambling for new digs, just as the company's 2012-2013 season was about to begin.

"Single Carrot is not at risk," said artistic director Nathan Cooper. "We have every intention of playing all the shows we planned on, and we are lining up ...

Continue reading "Closure of Load of Fun Gallery has Single Carrot Theatre seeking new digs" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

September 12, 2012

2012 Kennedy Center Honors: Letterman, Hoffman, Makarova, Zeppelin, Buddy Guy

And the 35th annual Kennedy Center Honors  go to:

TV giant David Letterman, distinguished actor Dustin Hoffman, magical ballerina Natalia Makarova, influential blues guitarist Buddy Guy, and the potent rock band Led Zeppelin -- keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, and singer Robert Plant will each receive one of the awards.

(2012 is a shutout year for classical music, but that genre is bound to get back into the picture before too long.)  

Here's a statement released Wednesday morning from Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein:

With their ...

Continue reading "2012 Kennedy Center Honors: Letterman, Hoffman, Makarova, Zeppelin, Buddy Guy" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

September 11, 2012

A musical reflection on 9/11: Soothing Schumann

Here in Baltimore, the day looks uncannily like Sept. 11, 2001, with the same gorgeous sky, the air that holds the last breath of summer and an enticing hint of fall. The image of nature's beauty contrasted with the horrid events caused by humans who had no regard for humanity continues to haunt.

Like a lot of people, I find in certain works of music a kind of balm, and I thought I would share an example on this anniversary, as I have in previous years. It's the third movement from ...

Continue reading "A musical reflection on 9/11: Soothing Schumann" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

September 6, 2012

Review: Rep Stage explores early gay rights history in 'The Temperamentals'

In those sage words of L. P. Hartley, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

For gay people, living in that "foreign country" meant camouflage, super-discretion, constant worry about what others might see or say.

Gays also developed their own foreign language of sorts, with code words that could prove useful in social settings. One such word, applied as a noun or adjective in the 1940s and '50s, was "temperamental," a substitute for "homosexual" (another, equally droll term in that period was "musical").

Jon Marans' 2009 play "The Temperamentals," which has been given an affecting production to open the 20th anniversary season of Rep Stage, shines a light on some of the most important and least known figures in mid-century gay history.

Today, the campaign for gay rights is widely considered to have been triggered in 1969 by the unexpected and fierce resistance to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village. But the struggle started much earlier, most notably in 1950 across the country in Los Angeles.

There, in an act as daring in its way as the Stonewall riot, Harry Hay and a handful of friends formed the Mattachine Society to advocate for the right of homosexuals to live freely and openly.

Marans explores this story in a way that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage
        

September 5, 2012

Review: Everyman Theatre's season-opening production of 'Time Stands Still'

Sarah, the tough and gifted photographer at the center of the Donald Margulies 2010 play "Time Stands Still," has seen so much of the world through a lens that she can't always focus on what's just outside the frame in her own life.

The camera is as much a crutch for her as the cane she needs to maneuver around her Brooklyn apartment since returning from Iraq, badly wounded by a roadside bomb.

The healing process will be only partly physical. Sarah's internal injuries, so to speak -- those to the heart, to her value system -- are every bit as complex and acute, just as hard to treat.

Sarah's struggles with herself and the people closest to her generate an incisive drama about issues large and small in "Times Stands Still," which has inspired a taut, stylish production from Everyman Theatre.

The big questions about the human toll of war and the role of journalists chronicling it seem even more important to ask now, given how little attention Americans have paid to the supposedly ended conflict in Iraq, the possibly endless one in Afghanistan.

The other major concern in the play provides ...

Continue reading "Review: Everyman Theatre's season-opening production of 'Time Stands Still'" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:47 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

September 4, 2012

Center Stage 'GO Pass' for 18-34-year-olds on sale Tuesday

OK, you lucky Gen-X-ers, or Y-ers or whatever, Center Stage is repeating its popular bargain introduced last year to help lower the median age of theatergoers.

The "GO Pass," available to those between the ages of 18 and 34, includes a ticket to all seven productions of Center Stage's 50th anniversary season.

The price of the pass is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

September 3, 2012

Signature Theatre revives 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas'

There's something very timely and very Texan about the early days of the 2012-13 theater season in the D.C. area.

At Arena Stage, the late, sassy columnist Molly Ivins is being channeled by Kathleen Turner in the entertaining play "Red Hot Patriot." Ivins famously skewered Texas politics in incisive, often hilarious fashion, and applied the same brilliant technique to the national scene (how she would have loved writing about this year's presidential race).

A little ways across the Potomac, Signature Theatre has resuscitated "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," the musical inspired by one of those true, only-in-the-Lone Star State stories -- the campaign to shut down a business that had peacefully catered to the hormonal needs of men for ages.

The show, which opened a long run Broadway in 1978 and was subsequently made into a much less successful film, doesn't necessarily leap to mind as the musical most in need of a revival. As you would expect, though, Signature makes a determined, entertaining case for it.

Maybe it's just me, but a musical that must have seemed like good ol' saucy fun when it was new seems a bit tacky, even cringe-inducing, in places all these years later. Its thickly applied veneer of sentimentality and romanticism doesn't hold up all that sturdily.

You have to set aside any pissant (to borrow a favorite "Whorehouse" word) qualms you may have about lil' ol' things like the exploitation of women.

In the first moments of the musical, you even have to swallow the notion that a farm girl who has run away from a sexually abusive father would head straight and excitedly to sex trade establishment known as the "Chicken Ranch" seeking employment; and that the madam would, in tender, motherly fashion, encourage this particular post-stress therapy.

That said, there's another ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

August 30, 2012

Kathleen Turner shines as Molly Ivins in 'Red Hot Patriot' at Arena Stage

Molly Ivins made her indelible mark not just as an unwavering liberal, but as one who fought for her side with such a vivid, audacious sense of humor that even arch-conservatives would have to grant her a few points.

The Texas-born syndicated newspaper columnist, who died at 62 from breast cancer in 2007, left behind an oil-rich legacy that has been drilled in generally effective fashion to create a theatrical vehicle called "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins."

The show, starring the ever-impressive Kathleen Turner, has settled into Arena Stage for a long run neatly timed for our over-heated election season. Chances are, the play will preach more to the converted than the Rush Limbaugh-inclined; it sure could fire up the base.

Mostly using Ivins' own words (some of the best material comes from a couple pages in the preface to one of her first books), "Red Hot Patriot" was written by twin sisters and journalists Margaret Engel and Allison Engel.

They capture the essence of Ivins, who had ...

Continue reading "Kathleen Turner shines as Molly Ivins in 'Red Hot Patriot' at Arena Stage" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

August 27, 2012

Final stay-cation report: National Portrait Gallery, D.C.'s best-kept secret

I know how anxious you all are to hear about more of my stay-cation adventures. Well, get over it. I didn't have any.

But on one my last days off, I did make a neat visit to my  hometown to spend a most enjoyable time in one of my favorite public places there, the National Portrait Gallery.

It shares space in a grand old building with the Smithsonian America Art Museum. The combo is one of Washington's best-kept secrets.

If you have never been, make plans at once. And I do mean at once.

Two terrific exhibits will be closing soon:  "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond" (last day is Sept. 3); and "In Vibrant Color: Vintage Celebrity Portraits from the Harry Warnecke Studio" (last day is Sept. 9).

The extensive African American exhibit, including works by the likes of Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas and Melvin Edwards, has an electric vibrancy that carries from gallery to gallery.

The modest-sized photo display, confined to a corridor, is quite arresting. The faces are familiar -- Lucille Ball (gorgeous and pensive), Irene Dunne, Eisenhower, Patton, et al. But ...

Continue reading "Final stay-cation report: National Portrait Gallery, D.C.'s best-kept secret" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:11 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

August 23, 2012

'Looped,' starring Valerie Harper, headed for Hippodrome, replaces 'Lombardi'

There is a change to the lineup for the Hippodrome's 2012-2013 Broadway Series -- from Lombardi to Lombardo.

The originally announced play for March 5-17, Eric Simonson's "Lombardi," about the famed football coach, is not going to be touring after all.

It will be replaced during that same time slot by Matthew Lombardo’s "Looped," a play about legendary actress Tallulah Bankhead starring multiple-Emmy Award-winner Valerie Harper.

"Looped," which had a brief run on Broadway in 2010, was inspired by a true incident in Bankhead's twilight years, when she had to ...

Continue reading "'Looped,' starring Valerie Harper, headed for Hippodrome, replaces 'Lombardi'" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

August 22, 2012

Young Victorian Theatre Company finds new home for 2013 summer season

Good news, Gilbert and Sullivan junkies. The Young Victorian Theatre Company, Baltimore's intrepid keeper of the G&S legacy for more than four decades, has found a new home.

You may recall that last month's vibrant production of "The Mikado" was the last to be held at Bryn Mawr School, where the company had been based for many years. The school plans to use the space for a theater workshop next year.

Young Vic's general manager Brian Goodman wanted to keep the troupe in the same general vicinity of North Baltimore. He has succeeded.

The company will relocate starting with the 2013 summer season to the ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Midweek Madness: Thinking about buying an organ from Tex and Edna Boil

This commercial, which I just had to share for the latest installment of Midweek Madness, has me thinking hard about making a big, big purchase from the ultimate suppliers of keyboard instruments down on Route 29, Tex and Edna Boil:

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

August 21, 2012

How I spent my summer stay-cation, Part 1

Not that you care -- who would? -- but I've been on a stay-cation, with my mind practically a blank about most things, certainly not preoccupied with music and theater and all that sort of elitist stuff that consumes my work weeks.

I don't want to shut off all communication, though, since I value your clicking enormously, I really do. But what to write when I'm not covering performances or reporting newsy things?

Well, a lot of people post everything they do, from meals to their squeals, on Facebook, Twitter and what-not, so why can't I bore everybody with a quick recap of things that happen on my days off?

Easier said than done, since I am doing so little. But on Monday, thanks to a visit by an old buddy who had not seen all the Baltimore sights (or sites), I had a great excuse to stop by good old Fort McHenry, one of personal favorite places in this area.

It was my first time in the new visitors center, which has a lot more to offer than the old one.

I was especially glad to see the new film -- so much more interesting than that tired thing they used to show about some (fictional?) doctor who sort of knew Francis Scott Key and sort of knew what happened the night the bombs were bursting in air.

One odd thing, though, about Monday. Well, what didn't happen was the odd part.

At the old visitors center, the big finish of the film was ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 15, 2012

Midweek Madness: Splittsville in the country

Yesterday was all about a marriage -- a happy, long-lasting one at that. Well, enough of the sentiment; on with the silliness. Let's hear about an unhappy union today, as only a great country singer could describe it.

For your Midweek Madness pleasure, folks, here's that great hit song "S.P.L.I.T.," about a relationship that just didn't work out, and the difficult effort to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:31 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 13, 2012

Performance Workshop Theatre's 2012-13 season features British plays, tough themes

Performance Workshop Theatre, the Hamilton/Lauraville-based company known for thoughtful productions and educational activities, has planned a season of British plays and provocative themes.

The 2012-2013 lineup chosen by artistic directors Marc Horwitz and Marlyn Robinson, opens Sept. 28 with "Breaking the Code," Hugh Whitemore's drama about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician born 100 years ago.

Turing, a key figure in the early development of computer science, led the effort to decipher the Nazi's famous Enigma machine (pictured), which helped give the Allies an invaluable advantage during World War II.

After the war, Turning was prosecuted under British laws against homosexuality, and he submitted to chemical castration to avoid prison.

He died in 1954 of poisoning -- considered a suicide by the authorities, an accident by some family and friends.

Horwitz will star as Turing in this Baltimore premiere, directed by Robinson, Sept. 28 to Oct. 28.

In December, just after Maryland voters will decide on whether to allow a broader definition of matrimony, the company will offer ...

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August 9, 2012

Micky Dolenz, Paul Vogt to head cast in Baltimore Symphony's concert version of 'Hairspray'

Back in February, when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced its 2012-2013 season, one event stood out as a guaranteed box office hit -- a concert version of "Hairspray" to mark the 25th anniversary of the John Waters film that inspired that Broadway musical.

The project, with Waters providing the narration, is bound to generate even more interest now that the BSO has added casting details.

"Hairspray: In Concert" will feature a blast from the past as Wilbur Turnblad -- Micky Dolenz of "The Monkees," the made-for-TV band that became a 1960s sensation. (He'll be reuniting with the remaining members for a tour this November; Davy Jones died last February.)

The drag role of Wilbur's wife Edna will be played by actor and comedian Paul Vogt, who has performed it on Broadway. His many television credits include appearances on "MADtv," "The Rerun Show," "Grey’s Anatomy," and "Glee."

The Turnblad's zaftig, racially colorblind daughter, Tracy, whose desire to dance on a TV show sets "Hairspray" in motion, will be played by Marissa Perry. It's a role she has done on Broadway; she's currently in the New York production of "Sister Act."

Tony Award winner (for "The Drowsy Chaperone") Beth Leavel will play Velma Von Tussle, the evil TV producer who stands in Tracy's way.

Others in the cast: ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

August 7, 2012

'The Rake's Progress' gets potent staging from Wolf Trap Opera

Since the death of Puccini, few operas have established a foothold in the standard repertoire. "The Rake's Progress" is one of them.

The 1951 piece boasts a prismatic, rhythmically alive score by Stravinsky, in his most inventive neoclassical mode, and a clever, exceedingly literate libretto by one of the 20th century's greatest poets, W. H. Auden, and his partner, Chester Kallman.

The work, inspired by Hogarth's drawings, operates on various levels. It's an old-fashioned morality tale, with Faustian overtones (and a good deal of wicked comedy), demonstrating how laziness and greed can destroy love and honor.

There's also an argument here for simple country values versus the desensitizing effects of modern urban life, with its commercialism, materialism and hucksterism.

All of this can be richly savored in what easily ranks among ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Opera
        

August 3, 2012

Broadway-bound 'Diner' to be retooled, postpones out-of-town tryout

The musical version of Barry Levinson's 1982, Baltimore-set film "Diner" will not have its out-of-town tryout in San Francisco this fall, as previously planned.

Instead, the show, with a book by Levinson and music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow, is undergoing a bit of downsizing in order to open next spring in what is being described as ...

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August 1, 2012

Remembering British actor Geoffrey Hughes of 'Keeping Up Appearances' fame

In any number of states in this country, wherever a Brit or Anglophile infiltrates the local PBS station, you can count on endless reruns of certain BBC TV comedies.

That PBS-BBC tie-in enabled me to learn the Monty Python oeuvre at a pretty early age, followed over the years by the incomparable "Fawlty Towers" and assorted gems that proved hard to resists -- "To the Manor Born," "Are You Being Served?," "'Allo, 'Allo," and other endearing Britcoms.

Then there's "Keeping Up Appearances," which introduced me to the divine Patricia Routledge as the preposterously pretentious Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "bouquet") and a superb cast that included Geoffrey Hughes as Hyacinth's determinedly uncouth brother-in-law Onslow.

Mr. Hughes' died last Friday at the age of 68 from prostate cancer. "He was a most lovable man," Ms. Routledge told the British press, "just delightful and great fun to work with."

What a fabulous pair of adversaries Hyacinth and Onslow made -- the snob and the slob. Onslow was a guy you would ...

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July 31, 2012

Wolf Trap Opera to stage 'The Rake's Progress' by Stravinsky

If you missed Peabody Opera Theatre's production of "The Rake's Progress" last season, or if you want to discover or rediscover this unusual and rewarding work, consider a little trip to Vienna, Virginia.

Wolf Trap Opera Company, which can be counted on to enliven our summers with great repertoire, imaginative productions and promising young singers, unveils a new staging of the Stravinsky gem this weekend.

"The Rake's Progress" is a remarkably complex piece. Although the neoclassical music falls easily on the ears, there are intricate layers in the score, which has one foot in the 18th century, the other in contemporary times.

Same for the libretto, fashioned in extraordinarily rich poetic language by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

The story, inspired by William Hogarth's series of prints, "A Rake's Progress," the plot presents an allegory that has hardly lost its relevance or sting.

The would-be hero, Tom Rakewell, abandons his love and the kinder, gentler world of country life for the amoral enticements of the wicked city.

The director of the Wolf Trap production, Tara Faircloth, has written Tom "struggles to find meaning and purpose in a world that simply does not make sense anymore."

Who can't identify with that, especially these days?

The cast includes Corinne Winters (upper left) as Tom's aptly named sweetheart, Anne Trulove; Eric Barry (upper right) as Tom; Craig Colclough (middle left) as Nick Shadow, the Mephistophelian protagonist in this tale; and Margaret Gawrysiak (middle right) as Baba the Turk, the bearded lady who plays a curious role in Tom's descent.

Aaron Sorensen (lower left) as Father Trulove and James Kryshak (lower right) as Sellem the auctioneer are also in the cast. 

Dean Williamson will conduct. The stage designer is Erhard Rom, who has a quite a track record for ...

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July 27, 2012

Hippodrome confirms 'Book of Mormon' for 2013-2014 season

First, the good news:

The Hippodrome Theatre has confirmed what could only be vaguely hinted at before, namely that "The Book of Mormon," the hottest Broadway musical in years, will play Baltimore.

The bad news:

Those singing, dancing Mormons will not hit the Hippodrome stage until the 2013-2014 season. But, hey, that's really not so far off.

The musical, which was created by the folks behind "South Park" and which won nine Tonys, starts its national tour this coming season. It will reach the Kennedy Center next July.

The dates for the Baltimore visit have not yet been finalized. Subscribers to the 2012-2013 Hippodrome Broadway Series will be first in line for the 'Mormon'-spiced 2013-2014 season.

REUTERS PHOTO

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July 25, 2012

Midweek Madness: A swingin' summery song from (the original) January Jones

Since the whole country seems to be havin' a heat wave, a tropical heat wave this summer, I figured we could all use a beachy number for Midweek Madness. So here's the beachiest -- and bounciest -- I could find.

Let's have a great big welcome for the oh-so-talented January Jones (no, not that one), her bustin'-out calendar pinup girls and ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
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July 20, 2012

Mike Daisey revisits 'Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs' at Woolly Mammoth Theatre

In a way, it has turned into "The Agony and Ecstasy of Mike Daisey."

He's the inventive monologist whose career skyrocketed when he created a riveting, scathing examination of the man behind Apple and the conditions in Shenzhen, the Chinese manufacturing metropolis where an enormous amount of high-tech equipment is made.

An unexpected thing happened on the way from Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where Daisey's "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" had its first tryout two years ago and where it has returned for a summer run, to its much-acclaimed New York presentation, which opened last fall. The truth started catching up with the play.

By March, the author was forced to admit that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:17 AM | | Comments (0)
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July 18, 2012

Modell Center at the Lyric announces 2012-13 season

Popular, propulsive musicals; vintage rock bands; a smattering of cirque and Celtic; an evening with Whoopi Goldberg -- all components in the 2012-2013 season lineup of the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

Two Broadway hits that have toured the region in recent years are on the list: The energetic Public Theater revival of the original rock music, "Hair" (March 8 and 9); and "Dreamgirls," a high-energy show very loosely based on The Supremes and other Motown groups (May 4 and 5).

In a bit of age-defying bravado, 60-year-old Cathy Rigby will be back in the air as the title character in "Peter Pan," the role that earned her a Tony nomination in 1990. The show is booked March 22 and 24.

Other productions on the schedule include ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:56 AM | | Comments (1)
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July 17, 2012

Young Victorian Theatre Company offers exuberant 'Mikado'

Even folks usually immune to the charms of Gilbert and Sullivan -- such people are to be viewed with sincere pity (if not a little wariness) -- may find it hard to resist Young Victorian Theatre Company's exuberant production of "The Mikado."

Whatever ragged edges may crop up on the vocal and orchestral fronts, along with a few theatrical misfires, this staging at the Bryn Mawr School reflects well on Baltimore's intrepid champion of the G&S canon.

The boundless melodic invention of Sullivan's score emerges engagingly, especially in the brilliant Act 1 finale, which, for structural ingenuity and expressive intensity, can hold its own against anything by Donizetti.

And the production effectively honors Gilbert's nutty plot about thwarted love and governmental lunacy in Titipu (the Japanese trappings do not disguise for a moment the British targets). Gilbert still seems remarkably ahead of his time in how he manages to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:17 AM | | Comments (1)
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July 12, 2012

More theater season lineups: Iron Crow, Single Carrot, Theatre Project

Looks like lots of provocative theatrical experiences around here for 2012-2013.

Theatre Project marks its 41st season with productions by several companies, several of them in residence.

Iron Crow Theatre, which focuses on works that spring from an LGTB perspective, will produce a three-play series there.

Megan Gogerty's "Bad Panda" offers a take on non-traditional families -- complications ensue when one of the last two pandas on earth falls for a gay crocodile.

Daniel Talbott's "Slipping" digs into teen angst as a vulnerable high-schooler from San Francisco ends up in Iowa with a crush on a classmate.

The 1920s Midwest setting of Jordan Harrison's "Act a Lady" allows for an unusual case of role-reversal as a group of men don 18th-century drag to put on a play.

Other local companies spending significant time at Theatre Project in the new season include ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

July 5, 2012

Anne Cantler Fulwiler departs Theatre Project as producing director

This guest blog post comes from Baltimore Sun arts writer Mary Carole McCauley. -- TIM

 

Anne Cantler Fulwiler, who for more than a decade ran the Theatre Project with dedication and grit, has stepped down as that group’s producing director.

Though Fulwiler’s resignation became effective at the end of June, she said she will remain on the organization’s board for now to help with the transition.

And on Monday, she starts ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:56 PM | | Comments (0)
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Ritual, nudity and a lot of splashing in Single Carrot Theatre's 'Foot of Water'

It's possible, as you know, to drown in an inch of water.

So Single Carrot Theatre was taking a certain risk plunging into a "Foot of Water" -- an original work created by company members over the course of the past 10 months.

The result is pretty soggy.

There's potential in this look at sex through myth and ritual, but the almost acrobatically choreographed play doesn't quite add up to a cohesive, let alone freshly insightful, statement.

It's sort of a variation on "Spring Awakening," only without rock songs, spicy dialogue, a plot, humor, or the gays.

The Carrots got a lot of their inspiration from a workshop they attended on the methods of Jerzy Grotowski, which led them away from a "verbal, idea-based" approach and toward a style that is highly physical, symbolic and improvisatory.

Nothing wrong with departing from structure and convention, of course. The danger when going in this direction is that, ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

July 4, 2012

Midweek Madness: Yankee Doodle marching to a different beat

Wednesday being a great big holiday, we don't really need the diversion of Midweek Madness, but what the heck?

Here, to get you into the swing of Independence Day is a burst of Stan Freberg, from his ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:42 AM | | Comments (0)
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June 25, 2012

Rembering the art of composer/lyricist Richard Adler

The death last week of composer and lyricist Richard Adler at the age of 90 got a lot of us remembering the colorful Broadway scores that he created with Jerry Ross, "Pajama Game" and "Damn Yankees."

The death of Mr. Ross at age 29 cut that inventive collaboration short, but those two shows were enough to assure both men lasting fame. Mr. Adler continued to write and produce -- he most famously staged the now iconic celebration for President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden where Marilyn Monroe breathed "Happy Birthday."

I thought you might enjoy these reminders of Mr. Adler's gift -- the endearing ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:05 PM | | Comments (0)
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Olney Theatre Center's 75th season to include edgy plays, musicals

The Olney Theatre Center will celebrate a milestone in its distinguished history -- the 75th anniversary season -- with some edgier works than usual, reflecting the input of newly appointed artistic director Martin Platt.

Among Platt's stated goals is the "expanding and enriching" of programming, which has tended toward the conservative side lately (the current season includes a production of the vintage thriller "Sleuth" that will be followed by "Little Shop of Horrors").

Nothing conservative about the opening selection for the season in February 2013: "Spring Awakening," the rock-propelled, Tony-winning musical from 2006 about budding adolescent sexuality.

Two 1950s musicals are also slated: the largely forgotten "Carnival," based on the film "Lili" and featuring a song that enjoyed hit status for a time, "Love Makes the World Go Round"; and "Once Upon a Mattress," the charming vehicle that launched Carol Burnett's career.

A 2012 play by Jeff Talbott, "The Submission," is on the schedule. This "politically and racially charged" piece, Platt says, "will ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)
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June 24, 2012

Olney Theatre revisits the twists and turns of 'Sleuth'

After more than 40 years, Anthony Shaffer's "Sleuth" holds up pretty well in the crime play genre.

Sure, it creaks a little here and there, but it still satisfies with its verbal sparring, its unashamed theatricality. That point is reiterated by the revival currently at the Olney Theatre Center.

The production's assets start with Cristina Todesco's handsome, white-dominated set design, complemented by Daniel MacLean Wagner's lighting. It's far from the traditional British manor house.

Here, everything is sleek and chic, right down to a floor safe that pops open by remote control. The look is rather clinical, but ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:54 PM | | Comments (0)
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June 22, 2012

Shakespeare Theatre Company brilliantly stages two comic gems

If you want to take your mind off the heat or the presidential campaign or the tense wait for the Supreme Court ruling on the health care law, just head to either venue of the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

I can't guarantee that you won't quickly resume your worries after attending "The Servant of Two Masters" at the Lansburgh Theatre or "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at Sidney Harman Hall, but I defy you to remember any cares and woes while spending a few hours with the company's scintillant productions of these comic gems.

Adapted by Constance Congdon from Christina Sibul's translation of Carlo Goldoni's 18th-century work (got all that?), "The Servant of Two Masters" is pure farce, insanely frantic and thick-plotted. The original material is strong enough to withstand any number of treatments -- a London National Theatre import called "One Man, Two Guvnors" is the talk of Broadway these days.

The version at STC is terrifically clever, offering a joy ride of witty dialogue and physical shtick that never runs out of steam. (Contemporary references, including mention of STC's potentially nasty battle with the Lansburgh Theatre's landlord, pop up along the way.)

Director Christopher Bayes masterfully puts his lively actors through their deftly timed paces all over Katherine Akiko Day's droll set, complemented by Valerie Therese Bart's dynamic costumes.

At the center of the action is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:15 AM | | Comments (0)
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June 20, 2012

MIdweek Madness: A little something stupid, insipid and possibly insane

OK, Midweek Madness fans -- you ain't seen nothing yet.

I am almost sorry to unleash this one on you, because it could make your day feel quite unbalanced, and lead to some very disturbing dreams at night.

As you know, the illustrious Frank Sinatra occasionally slipped a little in the choice of musical material. One of his aesthetic plunges was ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:49 AM | | Comments (3)
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June 16, 2012

Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah on Queen's honors list

Kwame Kwei-Armah, the British-born playwright, director and actor who just wrapped up his first season as artistic director of Baltimore's Center Stage, has received an OBE -- Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire -- from Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen's Birthday Honors List for 2012, released Saturday, recognizes achievement and service in a variety of fields, from government and journalism to philanthropy and the arts.

Kwei-Armah's, whose plays have been produced in London's Wets End to considerable acclaim, received the OBE "for services to Drama."  He will be presented with the honor at Buckingham Palace later this year. (An OBE is a couple steps below the top honor of knighthood, so he will not be known as Sir Kwame.)

UPDATE: In a statement released Monday, Kwei-Armah said: "My mother came from a tiny village in a small island in the Caribbean. If she were here today on this announcement, I perceive that it may have validated much of the pain, suffering and self-sacrifice she, my father, and many other family members of the Windrush generation went through to give their children a shot of living what I would of course call the West Indian dream, but what is in fact, the immigrant’s dream.

"A dream that although far from complete, has made our country a warmer, more equitable place than it was when they first arrived on its shores. It is with this narrative at the forefront of my mind that I say I am truly humbled to have been given this award."

His plays include "Elmina's Kithcen" and "Let There Be Love," both of which were produced at Center Stage, where Kwei-Armah's latest work will be premiered next season.

He was named artistic director of the company in 2010, succeeding Irene Lewis.Among those from the arts and culture world on the 2012 Queens Birthday Honors List receiving knighthoods are ...

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June 15, 2012

Searing revival of 'The Normal Heart' opens at Arena Stage

Plays do not come much more polemical than "The Normal Heart," Larry Kramer's impassioned indictment of government, media, doctors -- the whole world, really -- for ignoring a deadly disease that started claiming the lives of gay men in in the early 1980s.

But plays do not come much more shattering, either.

That there is still much to rage against is driven home both by the revival of "The Normal Heart" that opened Thursday at Arena Stage and the "Please Know" leaflet from Kramer being distributed outside the theater after performances -- "Please know that after all this time the amount of money being spent to find a cure is still miniscule ... that there most medications for HIV/AIDS are inhumanely expensive ... that pharmaceutical companies are among the most evil and greed nightmares ever loosed on humankind ..."

Kramer, clearly, has lost none of the fire that consumed him when the virus began its hideous march. It does not say much for the rest of us that, just as he seemed a lone voice crying out in a frightening wilderness, he still stands out from the alternately complacent and timid crowd, challenging, shaming, pleading.

When Kramer set about ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:16 PM | | Comments (0)
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June 13, 2012

Midweek Madness: The glittering Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth's delectable concert here in Baltimore over the weekend still has me in an upbeat mood (well, as upbeat as I ever get these days), so I figured another dose of her charm would be worth seeking and sharing with my peeps.

In keeping with the spirit of Midweek Madness, I decided that the ideal Chenoweth dosage would have to be the ...

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June 10, 2012

Kristin Chenoweth casts spell in concert for Hippodrome Foundation

If you ever wondered why there's so much fuss over Kristin Chenoweth, you need only to have been at the Hippodrome Theatre Saturday night.

This stop on her first national concert tour found the physically diminutive, artistically towering singer/actress in brilliant form.

The event, a benefit for the Hippodrome Foundation's valuable education and outreach activities, drew a big, happy and clearly Chenoweth-devoted crowd.

(Not sure why Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was wearing what appeared to be an 1812-era military uniform -- bicentennial fever? -- but he sure looked dashing.)

The Chenoweth vehicle is more a two-act show than a mere concert.

Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, the mostly well-paced production features the star in a hefty sampling of repertoire from her career and her current country-flavored album, along with a whole lot of humor -- much of it self-deprecating ("When I was little" -- pause "--er").

Saturday's performance found Chenoweth in sterling vocal form. I was reminded more than once during the evening of ...

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June 6, 2012

Vagabond Players stages 'Souvenir,' story of incomparable Florence Foster Jenkins

Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir,” being given an appealing production by the Vagabond Players, conjures up the real-life character — and I do mean character — Florence Foster Jenkins in all her audacity and peculiar charm.

This banker’s daughter from Wilkes-Barre became a famed New York socialite who fancied herself a soprano and, to the amazement of many, gave concerts for decades on behalf of her favored charities.

That Florence died at 76 one month after a blissful, music-mangling pinnacle — her standing-room-only Carnegie Hall recital in 1944 — only added to the myth. “Unique” is just too bland a word for her. 

“Souvenir” does not attempt to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

Iron Crow Theatre offers telling production of 'The Typographer's Dream'

The three people in Adam Bock’s “The Typographer’s Dream” want to believe they made wise, satisfying career choices, but they’re not really so sure about that, or anything, by the end of the play.

This slender, but absorbing, work, which has been effectively staged by Iron Crow Theatre, showcases the writer’s gift not just for language, but for speech — the pauses, repetitions, nervous stutters that are part of everyday conversation.

Bock also understands human nature, the walls and bridges we build, the blinders we put on, the defense mechanisms we adopt. One more thing -- the playwright can be very funny, too.

“The Typographer’s Dream” starts off like some sort of oddball panel discussion about professions; the house lights are undimmed, emphasizing the non-theatrical environment (Conor Mulligan designed the set).

Eventually, things look more play-like, but ...

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Midweek Madness: Liberace, Dusty Springfield, Phyllis Diller and glamor (?)

Watch "Mad Men" and you might think the '60s were totally, consistently cool. Think again.

I offer this case in point for your Midweek Madness diversion -- a big production number from '60s TV that would have had Don Draper rushing for the channel knob.

Here are Liberace, Phyllis Diller, Dusty Springfield and Millicent Martin (whoever she was), trying to celebrating vintage glamor. If you can, hold on until the end, if only to see how Liberace gets to be the center of attention:

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

May 31, 2012

Arena Stage offers buoyant revival of 'The Music Man'

Great American musicals from the past could not ask for a better revivification center than Washington's Arena Stage.

As demonstrated with Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" in 2010 and reaffirmed by the terrific production of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" currently on the boards, Arena artistic director Molly Smith knows the secret of a successful revival.

She starts with genuine respect for the original work, the most essential ingredient of all, and one you can't count on everywhere. Then she adds inspired layers of fresh thinking to create an interpretation that is at once comfortably familiar and freshly involving. For a finishing touch, Smith engages performers with the personality and commitment to make it all work.

No wonder "Oklahoma" was a box-office record-breaker for Arena. "The Music Man" deserves to be a big hit, too.

Compared to, say, the urban grit, passion and violence of "West Side Story," the Leonard Bernstein musical that also hit Broadway in 1957, Willson's show, which bested that other work for the Tony that year, might strike some folks as quaint, even inconsequential -- all con and apple pie.

But this tale of a "Professor" Harold Hill who lines his pockets and lifts spirits in an Iowa town by selling marching band instruments and uniforms to the local youths contains considerable substance and sophistication.

Willson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, was a gifted, formally trained composer with a reliable flair for melody and a remarkable ear for harmonic and structural variety.

You might not think so if ...

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May 30, 2012

Midweek Madness: Saluting the 'Queen of the House'

And now, dear Midweek Madness fans, for something completely different -- not to mention awful in any number of ways, but still oddly appealing and even strangely cool in a Mad Men-era sort of way.

No use in trying to say any more about this early version of a music video now; we can talk among ourselves later. Let's just roll film:

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May 28, 2012

Music for Memorial Day from Britten's 'War Requiem' with the late Fischer-Dieskau

On this Memorial Day, I wanted to hear the profound ending of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," a work that has been on my mind for two reasons -- its premiere 50 years ago this week, and one of the soloists at that first performance, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died earlier this month.

Among that singer's most indelible performances was the one he gave in Britten's extraordinary reflection on the toll of war -- all wars, all sides. The Requiem weaves together the Latin Mass for the Dead and gripping poetry by Wilfred Owen, who was killed a week before the cease-fire that ended World War I.

For the premiere in 1962 (and the first recording the next year), the two male soloists in the work were Peter Pears and Fischer-Dieskau -- an Englishman and a German, adding an extra layer of meaning to the first performance, given for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II.

The final section of the Requiem incorporates Owen's searing poem "Strange Meeting." The last lines: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend/I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./Let us sleep now ..."

Britten turns those last three lines into a deeply moving coda. Here's that passage now, with ...

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May 23, 2012

'Xanadu' gets sparkling revival from Signature Theatre

First, there was an odd film in 1947 called "Down to Earth," watchable only for the divine Rita Hayworth as the Greek muse Terpsichore who falls in love with a mortal while helping him put on a show.

Then there was an odder, barely watchable film in 1980, "Xanadu," based on the Hayworth vehicle and featuring Olivia Newton-John as Terpsichore, this time descending from Olympus to lend inspiration to guy dreaming of a roller disco.

Finally, there came the 2007 Broadway musical "Xanadu," which spoofed all of that other stuff, and did so in awfully clever fashion.

That show, with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, has received a sparkling -- literally, given the plethora of disco balls -- revival by Signature Theatre.

It adds up to 90 minutes of ...

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Everyman Theatre closes season with revival of 'You Can't Take It With You'

In the thick of the Great Depression, a new Broadway play took an energetic swing at everything that seemed wrong with the world -- government, big business, social conformity -- and left the audience in stitches.

In the wake of the Great Recession, "You Can't Take It With You" still hits home and still provokes a lot of good laughs, a point reiterated by Everyman Theatre's revival of the 1936 George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart comedy.

Come to think of it, the piece might be even more relevant, given how so many of today's one-percenters act like they truly believe they can take it with them.

There remains something deliciously radical about the characters who inhabit the New York home of the elderly Martin Vanderhof, he of the whatever-makes-you-happy school of philosophy. They all do what most of us can only fantasize about -- quit jobs, plunge into hobbies (even making fireworks in the basement), get all communal with friends and quickly friended strangers, talk back to the IRS, not give a hoot what other people think.

Of course, life can't really be like this, right? The subtly subversive power of the play comes from the way it keeps making you doubt that, keeps shifting the parameters of normality.

In the much-extended Vanderhof household, time doesn't matter as much as how you fill it. And the way they fill it is fundamentally, blissfully selfish, yet, somehow, within a caring environment. How cool is that?

The Everyman production, directed by Vincent Lancisi, comes in ...

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Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

Midweek Madness: An orchestra unleashed

My thanks to an adorable reader in Washington for alerting me to this perfect Midweek Madness candidate -- an orchestra that ...

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May 16, 2012

'Fela!' shakes the roof at Morgan State University

“I’m going to change Africa,” Fela Kuti says in the ambitious, highly-charged musical about his life and work. “I’m going to change the world.”

It’s not an idle boast.

“Fela!” the multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway show that has settled into Morgan State University’s Murphy Center through the weekend, provides a visceral encounter with the spirit of the iconic Nigerian musician, activist, polygamist and hedonist.

More than just the spirit, actually. Given the startling performance by Sahr Ngaujah in the title role, it’s easy to forget that this is a theatrical vehicle at all.

Starting in the late 1960s, Fela fused from various influences a hypnotic genre that came to be called “Afrobeat.” It soon exerted a global reach, which would have been enough to earn Fela lasting fame. But after exposure to ...

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Midweek Madness: Saluting the latest inauguration of Vladimir Putin

Back around Christmas time, I interviewed a cirque artist who told me he had performed for three Russian presidents. I had to bite my tongue so as not to ask if all of them were named Vladimir Putin.

Seeing Putin once being grandly inaugurated last week made me think that some sort of festive salute, Midweek Madness-style, was in order.

I know that I have featured a certain indelible Russian vocal artist before, singing his greatest hit (one of the greatest pieces of vocal music, ever, for sure), but how could I resist an encore now? Especially since this particular song ...

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May 10, 2012

'God of Carnage' gets brilliant production at Signature Theatre

Long before the projectile vomiting, and long after, suppressed feelings and uneasy thoughts are spewed all over the set in Signature Theatre's searing production of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage."

The stains get harder and harder to remove.

This Tony-winning play (which gets its Baltimore premiere next season, thanks to Everyman Theatre) takes what seems like a routine sitcom setup and runs with it brilliantly.

The plot centers on two sets of parents -- the Novaks and the Raleighs -- brought together for the first time because their young sons had a bruising fight.

The financially well-off, terribly polite couples are determined to display their breeding, to find a politically correct way of dealing with the incident and moving on.

Of course, you know right away that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)
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May 3, 2012

Rep Stage closes season with intriguing 'Las Meninas'

I'm not sure what is more intriguing about "Las Meninas," the 2002 Lynn Nottage play on the boards of Rep Stage -- the strange plot itself, or the fact that it might all be grounded in fact.

Seizing on some hard facts and tantalizing gossip from the time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nottage spins a tale of Louis XIV and his Spanish-born queen, Marie-Therese. When the neglected, frustrated queen receives an off-beat gift -- an African dwarf named Nabo -- things get curiouser and curiouser.

Adding to the fascination is the presence of a nun, Louise Marie-Therese, who serves as ..

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:41 AM | | Comments (0)
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May 2, 2012

Midweek Madness: The Supremes meet 'Mary Poppins'

With the national tour of "Mary Poppins" providing more than a spoonful of entertainment at the Hippodrome this week, I could not resist devoting the latest Midweek Madness segment to one of the hit tunes from that show.

Yes, I'm talking about that ...

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April 30, 2012

Stay tuned: Reviews to follow

Your humble correspondent had a whirlwind weekend -- two operas, two plays. I managed to get one review done in between my travels to College Park, D.C., Shirlington and Columbia, but I have a previously scheduled day off Monday, so you will just have to stay on pins and needles until I can file all the rest.

In due time, I will report on Washington National Opera's staging of "Nabucco" (you ought to go, if only for the roof-raising performance by soprano Csilla Boross as Abagaille and an intriguing theatrical concept by Thaddeus Strassberger that will give you plenty to argue about).

Also coming up will be reviews of "God of Carnage" at Signature Theatre (well worth the trip, even if you're planning to catch the play's Baltimore premiere from Everyman next season) and "Las Meninas" at Rep Stage (worthy presentation of an unusual work).

Stay tuned.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:06 AM | | Comments (0)
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April 27, 2012

'Mary Poppins' makes a pleasant landing at the Hippodrome

It easy to wish for more from “Mary Poppins,” the hard-working musical that has landed at the Hippodrome — a more layered story, more fleshed-out characters, more sparkling dialogue, more imaginative songs.

Then again, it’s easy to see what has kept the show running on Broadway for six years and has kept a national touting production racking up the miles and the audiences for three (two million theater-goers served in more than 30 cities so far).

For one thing, “Mary Poppins,” created in the 1930s by Australian novelist P. L. Travers, continues to be a beloved character with kids, not to mention adults who retain fond memories of childhood.

There is a lot of appeal in ...

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Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

April 23, 2012

On Streisand's 70th birthday, my list of her 10 most exquisite recordings

Barbra Streisand turns 70 on Tuesday. Her music-making still sounds as young and vital as ever.

Her exalted standing among pop vocalists is unchallenged, five decades after the "kooky" girl from Brooklyn first started generating a buzz in New York nightclubs.

I won't bore you with tales of how Streisand played a major role in my musical awakening, how she became one of the most important and consistent sources of inspiration to me. But I will mark the birthday milestone by offering a sampling of what I consider some of her greatest recordings.

I intentionally avoided the usual and uncontested choices, such as her brilliant deconstructionist "Happy Days Are Here Again," and all the spine-tingling, big-dramatic-finish songs or frenetic up-tempo numbers. There are so many fabulous examples to choose from in those categories.

I decided instead to concentrate here on some of her subtlest, most affecting interpretations, material that shows off the distinctively beautiful color of her tone, the extraordinary security of her technique, her exemplary articulation, and, above all, her ability to sculpt a phrase with poetic eloquence.

It wasn't easy choosing, but here is my list -- in chronological, not necessarily qualitative, order -- of THE 10 MOST EXQUISITE STREISAND RECORDINGS:

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April 13, 2012

'The Whipping Man' gets taut, atmospheric production at Center Stage

There is always something new to learn about the Civil War and the struggle for this country’s soul.

A just-out book, for example, examines a little-known order in 1862 issued by Gen. Ulysses Grant, expelling Jews from territories in Tennessee and two other states. The fact that the edict was quickly rescinded by President Lincoln hardly lessens the chilling nature of the incident.

And consider “The Whipping Man,” a play by Matthew Lopez that had a well-received run Off Broadway last year. Lopez takes as his starting point another little-discussed aspect of the Civil War — the fact that some Southern Jews were slaveholders, and the likelihood that their slaves adopted the Jewish faith.

The play, which has received a taut, atmospheric production from Center Stage, seizes on this intriguing footnote to put an almost dizzying spin on the issues of bondage and freedom. There may be a question of how much historical weight is behind the idea, but the theatrical result is quite intriguing.

The scene is Richmond, April 1865, just after Lee’s surrender. Passover is about to begin, and ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
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April 11, 2012

Iron Crow Theatre gives Baltimore premiere of Daniel MacIvor's 'The Soldier Dreams'

A young man lies inert on a bed, an IV drip his last tether to the world.

Periodically, a few curious words emerge from him, confusing his family members and his boyfriend, who have gathered for the long goodbye.

From this simple setup, Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor addresses familiar themes in “The Soldier Dreams,” a late-1990s work being given its Baltimore premiere in a mostly effective production by Iron Crow Theatre.

The play does its work in a span of only about 75 minutes. A little more time might actually have been a good thing, given the sketchiness of some details.

The central character of the dying David, for example, doesn’t emerge with much depth; repeatedly hearing that ...

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Midweek Madness: Fiddling with Busby Berkeley

My mind works in mysterious ways.

Last week, the Baltimore Symphony got back from a West Coast tour, which included a stop in Berkeley, which reminded me of another Berkeley, Busby, which always makes me think of his insane musical numbers, which include a deliciously over-the-top item featuring fabulous fiddles, which ought to do the trick for this installment of Midweek Madness:

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April 8, 2012

Easter greetings from Judy and Fred

Before heading down to Virginia to be with the parental units for Sunday, I wanted to leave y'all with a song for the day: "Easter Parade," from the closing minutes of the charming film of that name, starring the ineffable Judy Garland and Fred Astaire:

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April 4, 2012

'Memphis' heats up the Hippodrome

Maybe it’s the timing.

“Memphis,” the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, is not the deepest or most original of works. But this exuberant tale of race and music in the 1950s seems to take on added substance at the Hippodrome this week, given how freshly divided the country is right now over the Trayvon Martin case.

And maybe it’s the location.

Given Baltimore’s own history of strained race relations and gaps between “white” and “black” pop music back in the day, “Memphis” can’t help but provide extra resonance and relevance. The show is, in many ways, a pretty close cousin to the endearing “Hairspray,” right down to scenes of a TV dance program where taboos are shattered.

However it’s considered, this national touring production of “Memphis” sure does hit the spot. It provides a hefty serving of entertainment as it gives you a little extra to chew on.

With a book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, “Memphis” centers around a white, gangly high-school dropout named Huey Calhoun who manages, in record time, to break racial and musical barriers in his hometown.

Of course, Huey nearly ...

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Single Carrot Theatre checks into shadowy 'Hotel Cassiopeia' reclusive world of Joseph Cornell

You might say that Joseph Cornell lived in a box within a box.

From his early teens to his death in 1972 at the age of 69, the artist stayed firmly tied to a home in Queens he shared with his mother and invalid brother.

When Cornell ventured out, it was chiefly to rummage for any number of objects that he would use back home to create the assemblages that made him famous -- each contained in a little box with a glass front.

As art critic Robert Hughes writes, "that glass, the 'fourth wall' of his miniature theater, is also the diaphragm between two contrasting worlds. Outside, chaos, accident, and libido, the stuff of unprotected life; inside, sublimation, memory, and peace."

In his 2006 play "Hotel Cassiopeia," currently onstage at Single Carrot Theatre, Charles Mee opened an imaginative window into those boxes by ...

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Midweek Madness: Bending over backwards for your entertainment

In my continual effort to brighten up your drab, dreary little lives (as Ethel Mertz would say), I chose for this Midweek Madness installment a rousing dose of music, dance and totally mad limberness.

Do not try this at home:

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March 30, 2012

Center Stage announces 50th anniversary season, Kwame Kwei-Armah's first

When Kwame Kwei-Armah started on the job of artistic director at Center Stage last fall, he summed up his attitude with a simple message: Welcome to the conversation. That philosophy runs throughout the company’s 50th anniversary season, 2012-2013, the first to be totally planned under Kwei-Armah’s watch.

Plays, old and new, were chosen not just for the value of the lines spoken onstage, but also for their potential to generate a broader dialogue on various issues. By the end of next season, it may seem as if the plays themselves are conversing with each other.

“It’s a reflection of the kind of world I want Center Stage to be, a very significant civic partner in the community,” Kwei-Armah said. “If you leave my theater saying only, ‘That was a nice evening,’ I’ve failed. I want people to be talking about the work on the way home and, I hope, the next day as well.”

Here's a snapshot of the '12-'13 lineup: 

An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller; Sept. 19 to Oct. 21.

This revival is timed for the election season. The plot revolves around a form of whistle-blowing that puts brothers into conflict with each other, amid challenging issues of politics, finance and science.

“The play asks what the responsibility of the individual is, and what we owe society,” said Kwei-Armah, who will direct the production. “The brothers will be played by two actors who will alternate the roles, so that will change their conversation onstage. This work is also a conversation between the adapter of the play and the originator.”

The Completely Fictional — Utterly True — Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe, by Stephen Thorne; Oct. 17 to Nov. 25

This work, which originated last year at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, examines the pathetic last days of Poe. “It’s kind of profound and deeply felt, but with zany hilarity, including some vaudeville and burlesque,” said Gavin Witt, associate artistic director and director of dramaturgy at Center Stage.

The play fits the conversation theme by giving Baltimore audiences a fresh opportunity to consider a local icon. It also adds to the dialogue about Baltimore’s theater companies. Kwei-Armah is breaking with Center Stage’s longtime tendency to overlook local talent in favor of New York performers by hiring ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:53 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 28, 2012

Midweek Madness: An itch for Rachmaninoff and Marilyn Monroe

I known it is fashionable in some corners to make a smelling-cauliflower face at the mere mention of the name Rachmaninoff, but I never tire of the guy.

And I think it is possible for the composer's non-admirers -- perhaps even a certain hot shot young Austrian pianist who says life is too short to drink bad wine or play Rachmaninoff -- to warm up to this music: Put Marilyn Monroe in the picture.

So, for my Midweek Madness junkies, whether Rachmaninoff-inclined or not, here's a memorable scene from "The Seven Year Itch," when the ...

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March 27, 2012

Mike Daisey to discuss 'Steve Jobs' controversy at DC's Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which plans to go ahead with its summer presentation of Mike Daisey's "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," offers a free public forum Tuesday night with the author/performer.

Daisey, joined by the company's artistic director Howard Shalwitz and managing director Jeffrey Herrmann, will discuss the controversy over the factual validity of work content, which led to the retraction episode on "This American Life"and Daisey's recent apology.

The forum is at 7 p.m. tonight at at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company., 641 D St., N.W. Admission is free. To reserve a seat, call 202-393-3939.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:35 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 22, 2012

Audiences will listen: Stephen Sondheim turns 82

It's Stephen Sondheim's 82nd birthday, which is a good reason to remind you that Center Stage is offering a revival of "Into the Woods," the brilliant creator's multi-layered look at fairy tales and their consequences.

I wish some elements in the production were stronger, but, on balance this is is a vibrant reminder of the musical's beguiling power

Given the Sondheim birthday and the Center Stage show, it's also a good reason -- as if I needed any -- to trot out my idol, Barbra Streisand, who was born to interpret Sondheim's music. Here's her version of ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 21, 2012

'Diner' pre-Broadway tryout won't be in the city that inspired it

Well, it was fun to daydream about. The musical version of Barry Levinson's "Diner" will not have its pre-Broadway run in dear old Baltimore, birthplace of Levinson and the actual diner, as some of us had been hoping.

Instead, the musical, with a book by Levinson and music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow will open a four-week engagement Oct. 23 at San Francisco’s SHN Curran Theatre, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshal (director of the current "Anything Goes" revival in New York).

A Broadway opening is anticipated in spring 2013.

Let's just hope we get the post-Broadway tour before Washington does.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:32 AM | | Comments (1)
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Midweek Madness: Thoughts of Mad Men and Miss Marmelstein

Like "Mad Men" fans everywhere, I've been chomping at the bit for the start of Season 5 on Sunday.

I also happened to notice that Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of a Broadway musical that, except for the specific occupation involved, and except for the time period, and, oh, yes, except for the ethnicity, is really a lot like "Mad Men."

OK, a little bit, but enough to justify my using it to generate this installment of Midweek Madness.

The musical, of course, is "I Can Get It For You Wholesale," which opened on Broadway March 22, 1962.

The plot revolves around a moral-less, ruthless guy trying to claw his way to the top of New York's garment industry. Naturally, he uses people, undercuts his colleagues and takes advantage of women. Sounds like Don Draper with a measuring tape to me.

And you just know that female employees in the garment industry ...

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March 20, 2012

'The Brothers Size' a great fit at Everyman Theatre

There’s no mistaking a strong new voice in theater, someone who surprises and challenges, who creates fresh ways to examine familiar issues.

Tarell Alvin McCraney emerged a few years ago as such a voice when, still in his 20s, he unveiled a trilogy of plays set in the Louisiana bayou and loosely based on Yoruban mythology of West Africa.

The second of these pieces, “The Brothers Size” from 2007, has been particularly well-received in stagings across the country and abroad. It is now at Everyman Theatre in a searing production that hits you with a double, equal force — the imagination of the writing, and the power of the performers.

At its heart, the play is about the bonds of family, how they can go much deeper than we will ever know until they are threatened. Sibling attachments are hardly unexplored in drama. What McCraney does so well is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:27 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 14, 2012

Midweek Madness: A dissenting voice about Sondheim

There's nothing like a production of a Stephen Sondheim musical to get the adrenaline flowing, which means I am really looking forward to tonight's official opening of "Into the Woods" at Center Stage.

I have heard that some folks do not fall into the Sondheim-is-God camp. Hard to believe, I know. And I suppose it is even possible to empathize with the sentiments in this song by ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:39 AM | | Comments (2)
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March 13, 2012

Glass Mind Theatre explores fairy tale roots, resonances in 'Adapting Cinderella'

This, apparently, is the month to re-examine fairy tales in Baltimore.

A bunch of them are being dissected over at Center Stage in a production of the potent Stephen Sondheim musical "Into the Woods."

One story in particular, that of the abused young woman who loses a slipper and gains a nobleman, has caught the fancy of Glass Mind Theatre, one of the city's ambitious ensemble companies.

"Adapting Cinderella," created by members of the troupe over the past several months, seeks to figure out what all this "once upon a time" and "happily ever after" stuff came from, why we continue to hold onto such notions, why we still wait for a prince or princess.

Other questions include why we don't know enough about the sisters or the witches in these stories ("The Wiz," needless to say, springs from the same sort of questioning). More contemporary matters of bullying, sexuality and ethics also work their way into the play, however briefly.

The 90-minute production at Load of Fun, guided by Glass Mind's founding artistic director Andrew Peters, doesn't ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:10 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 9, 2012

'Addams Family' shows its kooky stuff at the Hippodrome

It has all the weight and nutritional value of cotton candy. But “The Addams Family,” the Broadway musical that has taken up temporary residence at the Hippodrome Theatre, adds up to a mildly entertaining package of song and shtick.

Revised since its New York premiere, which received a drubbing from the press, the show provides a workable vehicle for the characters first immortalized by the Charles Addams cartoons and memorably brought to life by the 1960s TV series.

Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the book, borrowed a well-used device to frame the musical — the comic collision of opposites. On one side, the ever so odd, but loving, Addams clan. On the other, the Beinekes, a white-bread family from Ohio that comes for dinner.

Although that would have been enough to fuel a 30-minute episode of the TV show, it feels padded here.

The big new idea fashioned for the national touring production is a bit creaky, too. Gomez Addams reluctantly agrees to keep from his wife Morticia a secret, something neither ever does. It’s about daughter Wednesday, who, in addition to torturing her brother — and I do mean torturing — has found time to fall in love and make marriage plans.

It’s just a little too convenient that Morticia insists on playing a “truth game” even before she knows just how much has been kept from her, but this set-up does pay some theatrical dividends in the Act 1 finale.

Even though nearly every little turn in the plot is apparent before it arrives, just as nearly every rhyme in Andrew Lippa’s generic songs gives itself away before the next downbeat, the production manages to hold together.

For one thing, ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

March 7, 2012

Midweek Madness: A Bergman teaser for Kennedy Center's Nordic Cool 2013

The Kennedy Center's 2012-2013 season promises something called Nordic Cool, which sounds, well, cool, just on the face of it. The details get even cooler.

There is, for example, a stage version of Ingmar Bergman's sprawling, absorbing, sumptuously filmed "Fanny and Alexander." Learning about that made me think of something else related to Bergman, which is where Midweek Madness comes in.

For years, the mere mention of Bergman's name has made me think of only one thing: "Whispers of the Wolf," introduced to his equally unsuspecting television viewers by Count Floyd, the ever so slightly edgy host of "Monster, Chiller, Horror Theater" on SCTV, the channel to end all channels.

So here, then, as my latest effort to satisfy your understandably insatiable Midweek Madness craving, I offer this profoundly incisive Bergman-esque appetizer for next year's Nordic Cool festival at the Kennedy Center. You will never think of the number "1313" the same way again:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

March 6, 2012

'Book of Mormon,' 'War Horse' headed to Kennedy Center in 2012-13 season

You just know it's going to be major ca-ching time at the Kennedy Center box office for the 2012-2013 theater season.

For a start, the lineup has “The Book of Mormon,” the wildly popular musical that remains one of the hottest tickets in New York. It will cap the season with a run in the summer of 2013, preceded by such current Broadway hits as “War Horse” and “Anything Goes.”

”Million Dollar Quartet,” about the night Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins jammed together, is also in the mix, along with a musical version of “Jekyll and Hyde” featuring Constantine Maroulis, and "Irving Berlin's White Christmas."

The theatrical entries in the center's big festival next season, Nordic Cool 2013, include the U.S. premiere of ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:29 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

February 27, 2012

Twyal Tharp's 'Come Fly Away' breezes through Baltimore

Sometimes, I guess what happens in Vegas shouldn't stay there.

That seems to be the lesson from "Come Fly Away," Twyla Tharp's kinetic tribute to Frank Sinatra, which breezed through Baltimore over the weekend, with four performances at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

When it bowed on Broadway in 2010, this narrative ballet had two acts and a live singer interacting with the Chairman of the Board's recorded voice. It was met with mixed reviews.

Tharp subsequently revised the show during a Las Vegas run, trimming it to a single, 80-minute act and ditching the extra singer.

The lean result is in the midst of an extensive national tour that will reach the Kennedy Center in mid-April (Baltimoreans perennially miffed that most touring shows play DC first can take a little pleasure in this). Although I did not see the longer, original version, I can't help but feel the slimmer one is better.

The essence of the original concept -- multiple couples arrive at a night club and go through various problems before reaching some sort of understanding -- is still outlined. And because the action is compressed, there is no time for the energy to sag, even in the few moments of relative physical calm.

Tharp's alternately athletic, sexy and witty choreography for this show still divides people, understandably. There is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

February 22, 2012

Midweek Madness: A musical romp through 'Downton Abbey'

If, like me, you are having severe withdrawal pains since the Season Two finale of "Downton Abbey," you could use a little of my global gift, Midweek Madness, more than ever.

So how about a brief musical tour through the show for this week's entry?

OK, so the video is a bit old and doesn't actually take into account the second season, but most of the characters haven't changed that much, so it still works.

Anyway, you will be singing along in no time and feeling frightfully better:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

February 15, 2012

Midweek Madness: Judy and Liza go grocery shopping

And now for something completely different.

Two musical icons -- Judy and Liza -- provide this Midweek Madness infusion as they discover the thrill of shopping for groceries, adding an occasional musical flourish along the way:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

February 8, 2012

Midweek Madness: Perry Como and the art of laid-back singing

It's Midweek Madness time again, and, for no reason whatsoever, I thought of Perry Como. And that made me think of this promo for his last great tour:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:28 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

February 3, 2012

'A Skull in Connemara' gets smashing production at Center Stage

If you are perfectly at peace with the dust-to-dust concept — you know, the reality that all of us, except maybe Lenin and Kim Jong Il, are going to disintegrate anyway after we die, so who cares how? — then the sight of a few old bones being pulverized by mallets won’t bother you.

Otherwise, you may feel just a wee bit twitchy during the second half of Martin McDonagh’s “A Skull in Connemara,” a dark-as-night comedy enjoying a decidedly vivid production at Center Stage. You may want to avoid a front row seat, too.

Bone particles (or a realistic semblance thereof) fly as forcefully as insults and insinuations in this play. It’s set in an Irish town where space in the church yard cemetery is at such a premium that those who have rested in peace for seven years are disinterred to make way for fresh customers.

OK, so. That sure sounds extreme, but not in Connemara.

No one even gives this practice much thought until Mick Dowd, the man in charge of the skeletal business, faces the prospect of uncovering his own wife. You see, her death never was satisfactorily explained for some people in town, so reopening her grave takes on a whole new level of interest.

Things get pretty messy, in physical and emotional terms, before the digging (also in physical and emotional terms) is done. Oddly enough, things get awfully funny, too.

“A Skull in Connemara” springs from ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

February 2, 2012

'Wishful Drinking' makes rough landing at the Hippodrome, but still flies

As she is the first to tell you, Carrie Fisher has had an eventful life. Since a lot of those events involved drugs, alcohol, rehab, and battles with bipolar issues, you might not think that it could be such a funny life, too. But funny it is. Pretty endearing, too.

Fisher happily shares her experiences in “Wishful Drinking,” a solo theatrical vehicle the actress/writer introduced in 2006 with considerable success. The show, which arrived at the Hippodrome this week, still has legs. The level of sturdiness, though, can vary from performance to performance. (Video from an earlier production -- pre-weight loss -- is posted below.)

There’s no use pretending that opening night on Tuesday went smoothly. Fisher, who could not have been more unflatteringly attired (surely her weight loss since becoming a spokesperson for Jenny Craig deserves a better outfit), often sounded halting, even with a teleprompter.

The uneven pacing made the show’s length more problematic, underlining the fact that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

January 31, 2012

D. W. Griffith classic will be screened with live soundtrack

Sorry for the late notice on this -- my fault, I fear.

There's a great opportunity to experience an important silent film, D.W. Griffith’s "Intolerance" from 1916, with live musical accompaniment from the Baltimore band Boister at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stevenson University. It's a free event -- with advance reservations (call 443-334-2163).

Here's more from the press release:

The concert will be held in the ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Seeing 'Red' at Arena Stage: A compelling experience

The "Aria" that launches Bach's Goldberg Variations is one of the most perfectly constructed and expressively sublime works of music. For many listeners, it represents something profoundly spiritual as well.

After Bach spins 30 ingenious variations on that material, he reprises the Aria, which cannot help but sound all the more fulfilling, having generated so many powerful intellectual and emotional responses.

It is no accident that this Aria provides the opening and closing sounds in the Arena Stage presentation of John Logan's "Red," a portrait of the brilliant, path-breaking painter Mark Rothko -- for many people, his work represents something profoundly spiritual, too. (The production originated at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.)

The intermission-less play is, essentially, a series of variations on complex, challenging themes of art and philosophy. It ends where it started, pondering an answer to the most difficult question of all: What do you see?

Talking about art can turn pretentious and tedious in no time. A play about talking about art could be even worse. Logan's remarkably feat here is to address a whole bunch of difficult issues in such a way that they become not just interesting and illuminating, but also downright entertaining.

The drama in the play is largely ignited by the commission Rothko received to paint murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York, an unlikely -- and, as it turned out, impossible -- place for his art. "Red" lets the artist to rant marvelously at the rich and oblivious who would be dining in front of his work.

Other great material involves Rothko discussing ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

January 27, 2012

Baltimore Playwrights Festival seeks directors for stage readings

This just in from the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, which is "urgently seeking volunteers to direct staged readings of new scripts by local playwrights."

Here's more from the release:

Readings will take place on Saturdays in February and March, at various theaters in the Baltimore area. Directors will be assigned a script, and are responsible for casting actors to fill the required roles, holding at least one read-through rehearsal, and being present to direct the staged reading on the date scheduled. Prior theater experience is preferred, but not necessary.

For more information, contact Miriam Bazensky: vchair@baltplayfest.org, 410-756-2762.

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

January 25, 2012

Everyman Theatre explores marital crisis in (more than) 'Fifty Words'

The daily dust-ups between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich pale in comparison to the battle scenes being played out with considerable force on the stage of Everyman Theatre.

Michael Weller’s recent drama “Fifty Words” focuses unflinchingly on a married couple, Jan and Adam, who have to face something formidable in their Brooklyn brownstone — a night entirely alone.

It’s the first such night since their son was born nine years earlier; the boy, having finally made a friend, is away on a sleep-over. This leaves the parents with a lot of time, if not each other, to kill.

Adam, a moderately successful architect, decides an amorous romp with his wife is in order, before he has to leave for another business trip in the morning. But Jan seems terribly preoccupied, both with left-over work related to her start-up business and with her absent child, who has developed a distinctive way of hiding under his own troubles.

Before long, the spring-loaded spouses uncover any number of suspicions, resentments and long-avoided truths.

“It’ll sting; I can’t help that,” Adam says to Jan at one point, treating a fresh cut on her foot after one of their rounds.

That’s nothing compared to the emotional wounds inflicted on both people before the night is over, more wounds than could ever properly heal. Recalling earlier conflicts, Adam tells his wife: “We were just learning how to hurt each other back then. We were amateurs.”

They are professionals now.

Everyone knows some seemingly incompatible mates who are nonetheless bound together. Marriages can be complex, as theater-goers already know well from Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In that drama, George and Martha reveal an uncanny ability to goad and ensnare each other. Their weapon — or refuge — of choice is booze, so much easier than sex.

For Adam and Jan, physical intimacy is the trap, and has been from the day they met. They have developed ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre
        

January 22, 2012

In today's Sun, yes, more about the cell phone plague

I always worry about my blog-only readers missing some of my inestimable prose elsewhere -- that's the kind of caring person I am -- so I just wanted to let you know that I have a follow-up to the New York Philharmonic cell phone disaster in today's Sun.

This one looks at how some of our local arts organizations are trying to cope with the menace from those smart (or evil) phones.

And speaking of that menace, please take a moment to check out a great refresher course on cell phone etiquette from the Washington Post's Maura Judkis. Not that you need the reminder, of course, but you may know some less enlightened souls would would benefit from the suggestions. And, one day, we may all once again enjoy the fullness and richness of uninterrupted live performance.

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 19, 2012

Center Stage offers free readings of Martin McDonagh plays at ale house

You knew things were going to be different with Kwame Kwei-Armah heading Center Stage, and you were right.

The latest proof: Center Stage will present free public readings of two Martin McDonagh plays featuring members of Everyman Theatre and Single Carrot Theatre and other local actors.

How's that for collaboration within the arts community? Pretty cool.

The project provides a neat way for Center Stage to promote its production of one of McDonagh's "A Skull in Connemara," which opens next week.

The readings will focus on ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre, Single Carrot Theatre
        

January 18, 2012

Midweek Madness: Operatic outing with Placido Domingo, Carol Burnett (some purple, too)

For your Midweek Madness pleasure or pain (or both), how about a night at the opera with Carol Burnett and Placido Domingo?

To give this a little extra relevance, do notice that Miss Burnett is wearing purple. We in Baltimore know how important purple is right now.

Oh yeah, this little gem even raises that ever-timely issue of ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Opera
        

January 14, 2012

'Gleam' production has put a venerable spiritual in my head

The experience of attending "Gleam" at Center Stage has stayed with me, despite some reservations about the play and one of the performances. As I said in my review, the work made me think of the great spiritual "This Little Light of Mine," which has been ringing through my head.

I should the say the melody that I know and love is ringing through my head. There are two musical treatments of the words. Maybe someone can fill me in on the true history of each -- they're similar, but distinct.

The best known -- judging by frequency of YouTube entries, for one thing -- is embraced by black gospel singers and white folk (and rock) singers alike.

The one that I learned is part of the Negro spiritual tradition. The first time I realized that it wasn't so widely known was when I played it on the piano at a memorial service for ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 13, 2012

Center Stage offers rare revival of 'Gleam,' adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston novel

There’s a vintage spiritual with a gentle, folksy tune and a message of optimism, self-worth and defiance: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

It could be the theme song of Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” a sprawling story about an African American woman named Janie, who struggles to lift male-imposed bushels off of her light and manages, against considerable odds and with inspiring honesty, to shine. Or gleam.

Although not entirely fulfilling, “Gleam,” Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner’s earnest adaptation of the Hurston book, conveys the heart of the matter. And although the Center Stage revival of the play could use a more persuasive anchor in the cast, the production provides an engaging theatrical experience.

First performed under a different title in 1983 at Rattner’s alma mater, Wayne State University (the playwright wrote it as her master’s degree thesis there), a revised version of “Gleam” had its professional premiere five years later at New Jersey’s Crossroads Theater. It has been out of sight since then.

There’s a nice reason to revive the piece in Baltimore — Hurston ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Drama Queens
        

January 12, 2012

Single Carrot Theater stirs up 'MilkMilkLemonade'

It’s not easy being a kid, especially a gay kid stuck on a chicken farm, yearning for the big shopping malls just a few miles away. It’s not easy being a chicken, either, especially when processing day is never far off.

Out of those truths comes “MilkMilkLemonade,” a dark, uneven comedy about sexual and philosophical awakening.

This recent work by Joshua Conkel is being served up in energetic, if not entirely satisfying, fashion by Single Carrot Theatre.

In a fairly compact span of 75 minutes, Conkel sprinkles all sorts of issues, along with the chicken feed, on a slender tale surrounding 11-year-old Emory.

The boy is perfectly comfortable with his doll, a budding libido, and a passion for show biz. He takes particular pleasure in his best friend, Linda, who happens to be a giant, talking chicken.

Then there’s Nana, Emory’s chicken-raising grandmother. She appears to be hanging onto life just long enough to make sure that, somehow, Emory can go sexually straight before he gets any older.

Praying away the gay isn’t going to get her far, so Nana enlists an ally in this quest, a neighborhood kid, Elliot, to bully some sense into Emory.

But Elliot slides between butch nastiness and an urge to play house with Emory — not in a naïve way. And Elliot’s got some other problems, namely an evil twin, who, parasitically, lives in the boy’s thigh.

Helping guide the audience through all of this is a narrator who also gets to portray the parasite and one big, hungry spider.

Emory is too young, too innocent (well, sort of), to fear anything about life beyond the farm. He just knows he wants to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

January 11, 2012

Midweek Madness: For my fellow 'Are You Being Served?" fans

As an unabashed Anglophile, I am fond of quite a few Britcoms, even ones that some Brits consider to be terribly déclassé. One of my faves is "Are You Being Served?"

I happened upon this musical salute to the show and just had to share it for this dash of Midweek Madness -- a song sung by the late, inimitable John Inman, a.k.a. Mr. ("I'm free!") Humphries.

I didn't know this song existed (and I'm not surprised). It's the sort of ditty you'd expect to turn up on ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 9, 2012

On the Record: New Broadway cast recording of 'Follies"

Under Old Business from 2011, I've got a whole bunch of recordings that I never managed to hear.

I figured I would try to get through a few of them before we get too much deeper into 2012, and a music theater gem seemed like a good place to start.

One of the great events of the Mid-Atlantic theater season in 2011 was the Kennedy Center’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s innovative, transporting “Follies,” with a cast headed by Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Elaine Paige, Ron Raines and Danny Burstein.

The show, with some change of personnel, went on to Broadway, where it earned another round of critical acclaim. The new cast recording (PS Classics, two discs) explains what the fuss is all about.

This may not be definitive in every detail -- will any version of “Follies” ever be that? -- but it is filled with involving performances. And, in a bonus of Sondheim addicts, a good deal of dialogue is included on the two-disc set (a handsomely illustrated booklet adds to the appeal). The result is quite a vivid representation of the actual theatrical experience.

Peters is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 5, 2012

Looking ahead at the music, theater scenes with a grain of optimism

On Wednesday afternoon, I took part in a conversation on WYPR's Midday with Dan Rodricks about the state of the arts in Baltimore (if, understandably, you feel just awful that you missed it, there's a podcast available).

Today, I am still thinking about the topic, especially as it applies to my primary beats, classical music and theater. On the whole, I feel optimistic about both, which is unusual for me. There seems to be a positive vibe in the air, despite all the woes and uncertainties.

Yes, we recently lost some valuable organizations (Opera Vivente, Chesapeake Chamber Opera), but we gained a big one (Lyric Opera Baltimore).

Yes, it's still hard to raise money for performing arts groups, but that doesn't seem to stop them from multiplying. Just start counting the theater companies around town, for example.

Yes, Baltimore Symphony musicians are still ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 4, 2012

Former Center Stage exec to head Carmel Bach Festival