Sparked by excellent performances led by the superb Roger Robinson as The Storyteller, Pork Pie—a Mythical Jazz Fable, presented in world premiere by the Denver Center Theatre Company, proves inventive, charming—and way too long.
Michael Genet's play with music had its initial beginnings at the 1999 National Playwright's Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., where it generated a lot of excitement. It was picked up by the DCTC, which gave it a private reading last year, and will present it in full production through June 16, with assistance from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American plays.
There's also been some Broadway buzz surrounding this highly original and eminently watchable paean to the legendary jazz musicians of '50s, and their famed "cutting" contests in which they would attempt to outplay each other. Set in Darlington County, SC, the show centers around two attempts, many years apart, to win the pork-pie hat (the coveted crown of jazz musicians.)
Directed by Israel Hicks, Pork Pie features a stellar cast that includes Alton White as The Champion and Vivian Reed as The Devil's Wife. Laced with jazz standards, including " 'Round Midnight" and "Mood Indigo," and enhanced by witty period costumes, onstage musicians, and truly bewitching special effects, the show has been touted as "magical." But, while its virtues outweigh its faults, the "magic" melts away in a morass of overwriting and false endings.
The Country Dinner Playhouse, which has been an Equity Theatre since 1970, has signed an agreement with Actors Equity Association to continue its contract for two more years. The year-round theatre is one of only three Equity houses in the Denver metropolitan area. The contract includes continued health benefits and a salary increase of approximately 10% for Equity actors. The playhouse also boosted non-Equity salaries by 9%.
Nomad Theatre's Equity artist revival of Orphans (through June 9) stars real-life brothers Eric Lawrence and Matthew Dente. It's a good gimmick, but the Boulder theatre's strong production of this offbeat thriller (also featuring Paul Borrillo) more than stands on its own.
Another winner is Acoma Center's gripping revival of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Fences (through June 9). Starring Jeffrey Nickelson as Troy, and directed by Chip Walton, it represents a first—but hopefully not last—collaboration between the predominantly black Shadow Theatre Company and the predominantly white Curious Theatre Company.
Cheval-Theatre will launch a two-year national tour in Denver in August. While not formally theatre, but certainly theatrical, the show is the culmination of a longtime dream for Gilles Ste. Croix, executive director and creative director of the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil. Cheval-Theatre will feature 30 horses of seven varieties, each with its own specialty from acrobatic vaulting to balletic choreography, working with 17 performers from all over the world. The show will be presented Aug. 22-Sept. 9 in a big-top tent on the grounds of the Pepsi Center.
Sandra C. Dillard
We are awash in professional theatre, pop, and classical music performers for the next several months. Bay Street Theatre opened its 10th season with Cheryl L. West's 1999 Off Broadway hit, Jar the Floor (through June 10). A look at four generations of an African-American family, this piece has Tony Award-winning director Jack Hofsiss steering a fine ensemble cast through humorous and poignant shoals with great skill and sensitivity. A revival of Edward Albee's 1994 Pulitzer Prize drama, Seascape, directed by Leonard Foglia, who helmed Terrence McNally's Master Class on Broadway, runs June 19-July 8; Rupert Holmes' (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) comedic whodunit, Accomplice, is on stage July 17-Aug. 5; and the rock musical Hair will run Aug. 14-Sept. 2. (Bay Street's web site is www.baystreet.org.)
The John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, East Hampton, named after a great 19th century American thespian, is going back to its roots with more theatre this season. First up is Married Moments, B.H. Friedman's new play, produced by Off Broadway's Abingdon Theatre Company (June 14-24). KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler move their Off-Broadway Gershwin tribute, American Rhapsody, June 27-July 8. Theatrical writer Lee Davis brings Broadway performers in for a series of one-night "American Musical Theater Salutes" to Cole Porter (July 1), choreographer Patricia Birch (July 22), book writer Joseph Stein (August 5), and theatrical cartoonist Al Hirschfeld (August 19). Delsener/Slater/SFX produces concerts with Robert Klein (July 20), Karen Akers (July 21), and Mandy Patinkin (Aug. 10 and 11). Playwright Wendy Wasserstein speaks on Aug. 12, and young playwright Jenny Lyn Bader's comedy, Manhattan Casanova, starring Mercedes Ruehl, has a world premiere run Aug. 23-Sept. 9. The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents a weekly French cinema series throughout the summer and actor Spalding Gray will try out a new gig—interviewing the audience—on Aug. 17. There are also classical and jazz performers in the busy summer schedule (www.guildhall.org).
The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center has a variety of theatrical and musical performers this summer. Some of the highlights: Patti LuPone (July 7); a musical salute to Arthur Laurents with KT Sullivan and Lee Roy Reams (July 13); Billy Stritch (July 14); Sandra Bernhard (July 21); Andrea Marcovicci (July 28); a salute to Noël Coward with Steve Ross and Lorna Dallas (Aug. 11), Smokey Robinson (Aug. 18), Bea Arthur (Aug. 25), and Cleo Laine/John Dankworth (Sept.2)—www.whbpac.org.
Other performing arts organizations on the summer schedule: Music Festival of the Hamptons (July 6-21) offers classical music with international performers; Opera of the Hamptons features young professionals in full productions (June 16-Aug.18); the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (Aug. 1-19) celebrates classical composers with world-class musicians; and the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival presents Twelfth Night (June 25-Aug.16 in Montauk; Aug. 21-26 in Southampton).
This season's fair-haired director, Darko Tresnjak, is all over the Connecticut map.
His production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead concluded the season at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre (closed June 3). Although some critics approved, this corner was aghast. Instead of juxtaposing Tom Stoppard's eponymous schnooks against the tragic swirlings of the Danish court, Tresnjak made the Hamlet sequences farcical, melodramatic, and artificial, sacrificing urgency and emotional empathy. Jefferson Mays and Frank Wood did well by R & G, but Edward Hibbert's Player stole the evening.
Tresnjak helms his own adaptation of Carlo Gozzi's Princess Turandot (June 6-23) at the Westport Country Playhouse. Then, Gene Saks directs Gene Wilder in Don't Make Me Laugh (June 27-July 14), a bill of short plays by Chekhov, Feydeau, and Shaw. Next up is Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain (July 18-Aug. 4), staged by WCP artistic director Joanne Woodward.
Harry Segall's Heaven Can Wait (Aug. 8-25), originally the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan and remade in 1978, will be directed by Joe Grifasi. Closing the season is David Wiltse's new thriller, Temporary Help (Aug. 29-Sept. 15), directed by Gordon Edelstein.
WCP marketing and public relations director Jeff Provost reports subscriptions are up several hundred over last season. Actually, more seats per show have to be filled, since five shows give 21 performances each, compared with last season's six, at 16 each.
Later this summer, Tresnjak hikes up to Goodspeed Opera House for A Little Night Music (Sept. 28-Dec. 16). Opening this month at that East Haddam jewel box is They All Laughed (June 29-Sept. 22), billed as a "new" Gershwin musical, though actually a reworking of the 1926 Oh, Kay! Director John Rando had to bow out of the staging assignment due to conflicting commitments; his replacement is Goodspeed vet Christopher Ashley. According to press rep Jennifer Wislocki, subscriptions held even with last year.
Pat Blaufuss succeeds Richard Pheneger as press rep for the White Barn Theatre on the Westport/Norwalk border. At Hartford's Bushnell, David R. Fay is the new executive director, replacing Douglas C. Evans. Fay was with SFX Theatricals, the conglomerate that owns Wallingford's Oakdale and programs the Broadway series for CAPA, the Columbus, Ohio organization now in negotiations to take over the management of the New Haven Shubert Theatre.
David A. Rosenberg
Once upon a summertime, there wasn't much theatre in Cincinnati. No longer. Summer begins raucously with the regional premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (June 6-23) at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC). Todd Almond, a 1999 grad from the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) who's been working in New York as an actor, cabaret singer, and composer, is back in town to play the title role. For the "Inch," ETC has assembled an all-star band of Cincinnati musicians from bands with regional and national reputations, including The Ass Ponys and The Afghan Whigs. Music directing is another CCM grad ('93), Philip Solomon, formerly of the Impotent Sea Snakes and now a New York performance artist.
New theatre is also cooking in Cincinnati this summer as three local companies premiere new works. Since last fall, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival (CSF) has been workshopping Joseph McDonough's A Chance of Lightning, a comedy created (in the mode of Shakespeare's own company) specifically to use CSF's five full-time actors. The show gets a full staging June 7-24. The low-budget but ambitious Know Theatre Tribe continues its relationship with playwright Kevin Barry; his play about a playwright infatuated with a young athlete, Track & Field (June 15-30), is his fourth work staged by KTT. And New Edgecliff Theatre is launching Southern Discomfort (June 21-July 1), a dark comedy about three generations of dysfunctional Southern women, by Randall David Cook.
Much of Cincinnati's theatrical vitality is the result of the two-year old League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT), which will hold its second annual Unified Auditions. All 17 LCT member theatres will audition Equity members and other area actors from June 14-17.
Elsewhere in the region, Actors Theatre of Louisville has announced its 2001-2002 season, opening with Tina Landau and Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins. Also scheduled: an adaptation of Dracula, The Piano Lesson, A Tuna Christmas, A Christmas Carol, Noël Coward's Hay Fever (staged by frequent ATL guest director, Ann Bogart), Macbeth, and Art. The 26th annual Human Festival of New American Plays will be March 6-April 7, 2002.
In Indianapolis, the Indiana Repertory Theatre next season offers two world premieres, Looking Over The President's Shoulder and Sister Carrie, in addition to Amadeus, The Color of Justice, A Christmas Carol, Art, Agnes of God, Julius Caesar, and Ah, Wilderness!
The farewell for one and possibly two of the Alliance Theatre's directors comes this spring with the season finale of Art (May 10-June 10). Outgoing Artistic Director Kenny Leon makes his exit in Art, playing Yvan with so many grimaces and so much bowing and scraping that his comrades seem to keep Yvan around strictly for their sadistic jollies.
Conversely, Tom Key and Chris Kayser are at the top of their game as Marc and Serge, making their blood feud over Serge's taste in art engaging, even as their fury impales the core of their friendship. How refreshing director David Bell makes Yasmina Reza's repartee between men over something other than women and sports, in what may be Bell's last staging at the Alliance as new Artistic Director Susan V. Booth organizes her own operation.
A bickering Victorian trio on safari unravels in Synchronicity Group's On the Verge (May 25-June 17) in Grant Park's Beam Theatre, steered by Holly Stevenson as a delicious female parody of an old coot prospector. Circuitously directed by Rachel May, Verge does coalesce in an extended 1955 finish that lets Kathleen Wattis and John Benzinger enchant as goofy prom partners.
Director Tim Habeger continues to reinvent Tennessee Williams, following his all-black The Glass Menagerie with a stark A Streetcar Named Desire at the Shakespeare Tavern (closed June 3). Patricia French is vividly matter-of-fact as a survivalist Blanche, acutely manipulating Mitch (Jeffrey Watkins) until she unequivocally rejects him. Turning "I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers" into a shot of triumph, French combusts real sibling affection and friction with Agnes Lucinda Harty as Stella, and there is some heat with a miscast Dikran Tulaine as Stanley.
Highs and lows alternate in Sonny Goff's direction of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Marietta's Theatre in the Square (May 9-June 17). Never making the material too precious are Rebekah Bay as a steely Lucy, Jeff McKerley as a nicely glum Charlie Brown, and a major new musical player in Christopher Ryan as a Snoopy both demonic and demonstrative. Successful as both comedy and Gothic cliffhanger is director Randee Trabitz's mix of genres in Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actor's Express (May 17-June 30). Accomplished comedians as well as actors, David Crowe and Hugh Adams also play well off each other to rich comic reward.
At the Georgia Tech Ferst Center for the Arts, Atlanta Lyric Theatre's Carousel (closed May 6) was dramatically inert but musically lush, with solid deliveries from leads Adelia Thompson and Daniel Britt.
With a line-up showcasing 15 new works, the highly successful sixth season of City Theatre's "Summer Shorts" will be held May 30-July 1 at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre on the University of Miami campus.
This year's offerings, culled from nearly 500 scripts, include Christopher Durang's comically-slanted version of Medea, Matt Pelfrey's timely comedy, Jerry Springer Is God, and former Miami resident and current writer on the television series "Once and Again," David Schulner's Keep On Movin'. Schulner's full-length play, An Infinite Ache, will have its world premiere at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre in October.
The 16th Annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival (June 1-17), created by Mario Ernesto Sanchez, artistic director of Teatro Avante in Coral Gables, will feature works from eight Broward counties. The festival will then transfer to the Duke on 42nd Street Theatre in New York City from June 20-30. The countries represented are Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, and Brazil, all with two offerings; the U.S.A. with three; and Spain, Bolivia, and Chile, with one play each.
The Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville has scored a coup by obtaining the Southeastern premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask (June 1-July 1). Meanwhile, Sarasota's Florida Studio Theatre has announced its summer theatre season with three plays, including the Florida premiere of Last Train to Nibroc by Arlene Hutton (July 3-22). Also on the docket are Pump Boys and Dinettes (June 5-24) and David Rambo's God's Man in Texas (July 31-Aug. 19).
The South Florida theatre community is mourning the death of the Boca Raton Royal Palm Dinner Theatre's Artistic Director Bob Bogdanoff, who passed away on April 17. The theatre's resident director for the past 24 years, Bogdanoff had garnered 25 Carbonell nominations, 10 Best Director Awards, and the prestigious George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts.