Pages

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Nerd



Playwright: Larry Shue 


Venue:  Funky Little Theater, 2109 Templeton Gap, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 35 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, December 10, 2016. 

For those unfamiliar with playwright Larry Shue, he created several stage comedies, before his abrupt death at age 39 in a 1985 plane crash.  His script for The Foreigner won two Obie Awards in 1985, and the front range has seen two crackerjack productions of that script recently (see here and here).  The Spotlight Theatre Company production won the Bill’s Best Award for comedy in 2015.  

Shue’s first successful production, The Nerd, debuted in 1981 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and Shue himself played the role of Willum Cubbert (a central role done very well here by Sam Suksiri).  Funky Little Theater’s current production of The Nerd is a loving, very funny tribute to Shue’s all too short career.  

It would be difficult (and a total spoiler) to go into great detail about the plot of The Nerd.  If you’re familiar with the resemblance between houseguests and fish, you get the gist of it.  Rick Steadman (Chris Medina, in a role that seems to fit him like a glove) is “the nerd,” but he’s also the houseguest from hell.  Impervious to insults and thoughtless beyond comprehension, Medina as Steadman effortlessly sows discord, anger, and frustration in his host’s otherwise normal existence.  

"The Game of Shoes and Socks."
Medina is simultaneously charming, disarming, and alarming as the barely civilized Steadman.   Medina is the Funky Artistic Director, but he drops all pretense of decorum as Steadman.  His inner clown is on full display when he engages the rest of the cast in the game of “Shoes and Socks.”  Trust me.  No matter how well you know Chris Medina, you probably have never seen this side of him.  

Sam Suksiri makes his Funky debut as Cubbert, the insecure, indecisive yet still lovable architect Willum Cubbert.  Suksiri wavers between gratitude for Steadman’s heroism and revulsion at his coarse, boorish behavior.  Cubbert doesn’t handle conflict well, and Sukiri does a near perfect demonstration of Cubbert’s struggle to get control of his home and his life.  

Shue’s cast includes Steadman’s polar opposite in the Axel Hammond character, a pretentious, pompous, proper guy who makes a living as a drama critic.  Shue pokes fun at the critic; Hammond starts writing before he goes to the show, and leaves 30 minutes before it’s over to make his deadline.  When asked if he has ever seen a show he likes, Hammond is emphatic.  Nope.  (I can take a joke, but I promise readers that I never start a review before seeing the show, and never leave early.)
Riley Taylor as Thor.  As annoying as he looks.

Richard Sebastian-Coleman deftly plays Hammond; there were times when it was difficult to determine who is the more annoying:  Hammond or Steadman?  Hammond is totally self absorbed.  Steadman is barely self aware.  Neither is anyone with whom I’d want to spend 5 minutes.  Sebastian-Coleman never breaks character, constantly asserting his alpha dog dominance while delivering biting insults to anyone in range.  

Isabel Forrest (as Tansy McGinnis the TV meteorologist) and Sophie Thunberg (as Clelia Waldgrave) are the ladies of The Nerd, and both add punch and fun to the onstage antics.  Forrest is Cubbert’s love interest, and she convincingly muddles her dilemma of choosing between her love and her career.  Forrest occasionally lets her cast mates break her up, briefly breaking character.  She brings that TV weather gal look to the stage; she’s perky, proper, and chatty.  Forrest has a natural stage presence that quickly makes her the focus as soon as she walks onto the set.

Sophie Thunberg (as Clelia Waldgrave)
Thunberg deals with anger in an unusual way; she destroys stuff.  She breaks the china.  For Funky’s sake, I hope they budgeted for enough cups, saucers, and plates to keep Thunberg happy.  She gets carried away by the carnage.  Thunberg’s most memorable scene, though, is during the game of “Shoes and Socks.”  She answers that age old question once and for all:  how does one discretely remove her pantyhose in a room full of strangers?  It’s not easy, but Thunberg nails it, to marvelous comedic effect. 

Jeremy Farrell (Warnock Waldgrave) is well cast as the hotel magnate (without orange hair) who bullies and berates his architect Willum Cubbert.  Farrell has the gravitas to pull off his frustration of dealing with his architect/servant Cubbert.  Riley Taylor plays the Waldgrave spoiled brat offspring, and he is 100% irritating as Thor Waldgrave.  

Shue has baked in a plot twist that ties up all the loose ends, and it’s a doozy.  Just when you think you have figured out where The Nerd is going, Shue pulls a  major surprise.  I’ll say no more, but don’t duck out early.  You’ll miss the entire point of The Nerd.  
Jeremy Farrell (as Warnock Waldgrave)

The Saturday night performance was packed, and for good reason.  The Nerd is one of Funky’s funniest productions yet.  Having company for the holidays can be stressful, but if you think your company is annoying, see The Nerd.  You’ll be glad you’re not hosting Rick Steadman at Christmas…or at any other time for that matter.


NOTES:

This show closes on December 17, 2016. 

This show is suitable for all ages, although younger children probably will miss a fair amount of the humor.  Middle school kids, however, will relate very well to many of the jokes.  

Nearly everyone in this cast (Medina being the only exception) is new or nearly new to the Funky stage.  Each made a promising statement in The Nerd.  Funky will benefit greatly from their continued participation in future productions.


TICKETE HERE.
Set and cast, The Nerd.  L-R:  Richard Sebastian-Coleman (Axel), Sam Suksiri (Willum),
Isabel Forrest (Tansy).


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director/Lighting Design:  Dylan McClintock

Set Design:  Chris Medina

Original Music/Sound Design:  Chad Orr

Costume Design:  Brandi Blackwood

Assistant Costume Designer:  Cara Marshall

Makeup/Hair:  Garrett McCormack

Props Manager:  Justin Weinzierl

Stage Manager:  Chelsie Bennett

Assistant Stage Managers:  Will Sobolik & Megan McManus


CAST:

Warnock Waldgrave:  Jeremy Farrell

Tansy McGinnis:  Isabel Forrest

Rick Steadman:  Chris Medina

Axel Hammond:  Richard Sebastian-Coleman

Willum Cubbert:  Sam Suksiri

Thor Waldgrave:  Riley Taylor

Clelia Waldgrave:  Sophie Thunberg

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Christmas Carol


Gabriel Levy (Tiny Tim) & William Metzo (Ebenezer Scrooge).



Author: Charles Dickens.  

Adapted and directed by:  Murray Ross

CompanyTheatreworks

Venue:  Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  80 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, December 3, 2016. 

Make no mistake; Ebeneezer Scrooge deserves his literary notoriety as a cruel, heartless miser.  

“What‟s Christmas to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older but not an hour richer. If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

The above quote from one of the first scenes of A Christmas Carol is self explanatory.  Scrooge is a misguided misanthrope, and proud of it.  That’s how we still see him today, 173 years after Dickens published his novella A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas (now commonly known as A Christmas Carol).

Theatreworks has produced the Dickens classic 10 times over the last 46 years, and this, the 10th production, is an interesting deviation from what we’ve come to expect.  Artistic Director (and production director) Murray Ross describes it this way:

“This reimagining of the Dickens classic insists that performance is just as much about the loving communion between actors and audience as it is about the moral delivered…we return to “A Christmas Carol” at a moment when our country is deeply divided over what seems to be intractable differences and calls for goodwill and compassion are much needed.”

Ross has definitely created a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate story.  His Scrooge (William Metzo) is a flawed but genuinely human guy whose redemption is based more on enlightenment than fear.  

Ross’ ghosts are not the ones we expect; they are more spiritual than demonic. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Shay Anderson, who doubles as Martha Cratchit) is a delicate, gentle soul won’t judge Scrooge.  The Ghost of Christmas Present (Sammie Joe Kinnett, who also plays Fezziwg) is a mischievous mirage, winning Scrooge over (and by extension, all of us) with a wink and a smile.  The Ghost of Christmas Future (Steve Wallace, who doubles as Marley) is decidedly soothing in both his roles. He’s not the tormented ghost we expect.  Rather, he’s a much needed cautionary tale for Scrooge.  No scary ghosts?  Nope.  None.  In fact, even their costumes (designed by Stephanie Bradley) suggest something other than fear.  Shay Anderson is dressed all in white, adorned with some tiny multicolored Christmas lights.  She looks nothing short of angelic.  Sammie Joe Kinnett sits on a throne, dressed in royal robes. He’s more enlightened despot than scary phantom.  
L-R:  Lynn Hastings (Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit), Mike Lee (Bob Cratchit, Dick Wilkins),
 Gabriel Levy (Tiny Tim), William Metzo (Ebenezer Scrooge).  

This kinder, gentler production benefits greatly from its youngest performers.  Gabriel Levy (Tiny Tim) has the look of a tragic child of crushing poverty, but also the youthful exuberance of a compelling Tiny Tim.  It took about 10 seconds for me to realize that he’s as talented and lovable a Tiny Tim as any I’ve seen.  Kensington Van Hook (Fan/Belinda Cratchit) is remarkable for a 7 year old.  She knew every line and delivers each with a 7 year old’s sincerity and innocence.  She hits every mark, and steals every heart.

Lighting Designer Seth Alison distinguished himself here, using subdued lighting punctuated with several scenes lit only by candlelight.  Those scenes were both striking and authentic; one can easily imagine candlelight being the only light in a 19th century impoverished London hovel.  This is a stripped down production, with a simple set, a small cast, and a breezy pace for it’s 80 minutes.  The tone and the message are fresh and relevant.  This is A Christmas Carol with a heart but not a villain.  

We all know Scrooge for his flaws, but he rarely gets credit for his redemption.  Perhaps it is time we rethink A Christmas Carol and recognize that Scrooge is a model, not a pariah.  He learns, he changes, and he literally puts “his money where his mouth is.”  We can learn from his mistakes, and we can make his transformation our own.   

Ross mentions “the loving communion between actors and audience,” and that’s exactly what he delivers.  The actors invite the audience onto the stage to join them for a cup of mulled wine after the curtain call.  It’s a special moment, bringing the two groups together to celebrate, and importantly, to communicate.  As Ross says, at this moment in time, goodwill and compassion are essential.  A Christmas Carol is Ross’ gift to a divided community, binding us with his vision, his actors, and a simple cup of spiced warm wine. 

May we all take the gift and the lessons of A Christmas Carol to heart and recognize the qualities we share…and need.

Join the cast after the show for a spot of mulled wine...

NOTES:

This show closes on December 24, 2016. 

Photo Credit:  Theatreworks.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Artistic Director/Production Director:  Murray Ross

Scenic Artist:  Craig Crowder

Carpenters:  Charles Redding, Benton Gray, Justin Giannetto

Lighting Design:  Seth Alison

Sound Design:  Jason Ducat

Master Electrician:  Eric Grosenbach

Technical Director:  Randy Dipner

Costume Design:  Stephanie Bradley

Props Manager:  Rebecca Dull

Stage Manager:  Elise Jenkins

Assistant Stage Manager:  Alexandrea Pingrey

Production/Shop Crew:  Gia Bhuang, Will Blocker, John Cooke, Jacob Del Valle, Jennifer Gebhart, Ruth Geiger, Natalie Keil, Salvadore Placensia, Charles Redding, Jonathan Smith, Jess Whiteside


CAST:

Ebeneezer Scrooge:  William Metzo*

Bob Cratchit/Dick Wilkins:  Mike Lee

Fred/Young Scrooge/Peter Cratchit/Ali Baba:  Tony Vo

Fezziwig/The Ghost of Christmas Present:  Sammie Joe Kinnett*

Mrs. Fezziwig/Mrs. Cratchit:  Lynn Hastings

Belle/Fred’s Wife/Charwoman:  Rachel Jacobs

The Ghost of Christmas Past/Martha Cratchit:  Shay Anderson

Fan/Belinda Cratchit: Kensington Van Hook

Tiny Tim:  Gabriel Levy

Marley/Ghost of Christmas Future:  Steve Wallace

* Member of the Actor’s Equity Association.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Shrek The Musical





Book and Lyrics by: David Lindsay-Abaire.  (Based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film and the book by William Steig.)

Music by: Jeanine Tesori (I’m A Believer by Neil Diamond)


Venue:  SaGaJi Theatre, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 35 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, December 3, 2016. 

If you’ve got young kids, you know about Shrek.  He’s the big green ogre we first met in a Dreamworks blockbuster film in 2001.  Unlike the mythological ogres who were thought to feast on small children, Shrek is a lonely, lovable and very funny hero.  The film was adapted for the stage, opening on Broadway in December, 2008.  The show was nominated for twelve Drama Desk Awards and eight Tony awards (it won one Tony for costume design).  Shrek the Musical has been produced worldwide since 2008, and landed on the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center stage for the Christmas season.  

In the unlikely event that you haven’t already seen the film or the stage production, the script is a love story designed to appeal to children of all ages (rude noises are plentiful and funny).  Shrek (David Wiens) lives by himself in a rancid swamp, and he’s quite happy there, at least until his habitat is invaded by a gang of fairy tale creatures (the usual suspects…Pinocchio, the Fairy Godmother, the three little pigs, etc).  It seems they have been banished from the Kingdom of Duloc by the diminutive Lord Farquaad (Max Ferguson).
Fairy Tale Characters.  Front, L-R:  Elf (Arielle Miagkov), Pinocchio (Kevin Pierce),
Peter Pan (Sammy Gleason).

As Shrek tries to help the motley crew of imaginary characters, he rescues a wayward donkey (Danny Wilfred) from Farquaad’s guards.  The donkey is chatty, perky, and endlessly annoying, but Shrek agrees to take the donkey with him to confront Farquaad.

It true fairy tale fashion, Shrek winds up fighting a dragon and crossing a lake of molten lava to find Princess Fiona.  Of course, true love ensues and endures, despite the dreadful mismatch between a beautiful princess and a green ogre.

Lead (and Equity) actors David Weins and Maggie Davenport make a marvelous couple; their chemistry is genuine and the kids in the crowd know it.  Despite the seemingly disqualifying traits of their characters Weins and Davenport pull off a ‘beauty and the beast” love story.  Both have strong acting and singing skills, and those skills are on full display in the rude but endearing tune I Think I Got You Beat, featuring a farting and belching medley. The humor is obvious, but the song has the stealth effect of humanizing the beauty and the beast.  Whether one is a princess or a green monster, the loud expulsion of gas from the digestive tract is a trait we all share.  Weins and Davenport are just like us, despite their polar opposite characters.
CENTER:  Fiona (Maggie Davenport), Shrek (David J. Wiens).

Danny Wilfred’s donkey is amazingly light on his hooves, doing his dance moves with an exuberant equine finesse.  Wilfred has an sharp sense of comedic timing and a variety of exaggerated facial expressions to punctuate the comedy.  Max Ferguson has a “diminished” role as Lord Farquaad, proving that great things come in small packages.  Ferguson has a beautiful booming voice, and he cuts it loose for his signature song The Ballad of Farquaad.  It should be noted that just as Wilfred is light on his hooves, the same can (and must) be said of Ferguson’s knees.

The Saturday matinee was not without its challenges.  A stage hand had to sneak onstage to secure a wheeled set piece, and Ferguson’s mic failed briefly during one of his songs.  That said, though, this is an excellent production.  Christopher Sheley’s set makes extensive use of scrims.  Lighting Designer Holly Anne Rawls lights them up with what seems like magic.  Rawls lights a scrim house in the second act, creating a strikingly beautiful scene between the donkey and Fiona.  Director Nathan Halvorson infuses endless energy into his characters, and his touch with the tap dancers is unique.  They start the song behind a curtain hiding all but their shoes.  It’s a marvelous device to make the audience focus on the talented tappers.

Shrek The Musical attracts a young audience.  I estimate that at least 1/3 of the theatre fans were under the age of 15 at this performance.  This show speaks to kids; they can easily relate to Shrek’s isolation and to Fiona’s search for true love’s first kiss.  In many ways, we are all kids.  No matter our age, we all get the message:  don’t judge people by their appearance.  Our similarities are much more prominent than our differences.

The Fine Arts Center is making a statement with Shrek The Musical.  We’ve had a difficult election year, so costume designer Lex Lang puts the donkey in a T shirt with the words “Make Duloc Great Again.”  We are reminded that Duloc is already great, and not because it almost gets a wall to keep people out.  It’s because, in the end Duloc welcomes all despite their differences.

That message is precisely the right one for a divisive election season and a much needed Christmas season of giving and healing.


NOTES:

The theater is not dead, but theater etiquette may be on its last legs.  This performance included both late arrivals (as late as 40 minutes after the scheduled curtain) and early departures (at the dramatic climax of the love story).  In both cases, the disruptions were within two or three rows of the stage, making the incidents obvious to everyone in the room.  In both cases, it was parents with several kids in tow, distracting both the actors and the audience from the story.  It’s disrespectful, and it’s a lamentable display for the impressionable children in attendance.  

This show makes extensive use of theatrical fog/smoke.  It is hypoallergenic, and should not cause a problem for those with allergies.

This show closes on January 8, 2017. 

Photo Credit:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Jeff Kearney, photographer.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Producing Artistic Director:  Scott RC Levy

Directed and Choreographed by:  Nathan Halvorson

Music Director:  Jerry McCauley

Scenic Design:  Christopher Sheley

Lighting Design:  Holly Anne Rawls

Sound Design:  Ben Heston

Costume Design:  Lex Liang

Hair, Prosthetics & Makeup Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Properties Design:  Emma Dean

Production Stage Manager:  Kaetlyn Springer

Tap Choreographer:  Zachary Seliquini Guzman


CAST:

Shrek:  David Wiens*

Fiona:  Maggie Davenport*

Donkey:  Danny Wilfred

Lord Farquaad:  Max Ferguson

Dragon/Mama Bear/Ensemble:  Alex Campbell

Pinocchio/Ensemble:  Kevin Pierce

Gingy/Sugar Plum Fairy/Ensemble:  Rebecca Meyers

Little Fiona:  Ellie Levy/Ella McCauley

Teen Fiona/Elf:  Arielle Miagkov

Witch/Mama Orgre/Ensemble:  Alannah Vaughn

Papa Bear/Papa Bear/Ensemble:  Thomas Voss

Peter Pan/Ensemble:  Sammy Gleason

Ugly Duckling/Ensemble:  Tracy Hedding

Captain of the Guard/Ensemble:  Micah Spiers

Big Bad Wolf/Pied Piper/Ensemble:  Adam Blancas

Pig #1/Ensemble:  Parker Fowler

Pig #2/Ensemble:  Nate Ferrick

Pig #3/Ensemble:  Casey Fetters

Fairy Godmother/Ensemble:  Carmen Shedd

Baby Bear/Ensemble:  Micah Wilborn

*Members, Actor’s Equity Association


THE SWAMP BAND

Bass:  Jay Hahn

Keyboards:  Sharon Skidgel

Violins:  Elisa Wicks & Cynthia Robinson

Trombone:  Rick Crafts

Trumpet:  Sean Hennessy

Reeds:  Ed Hureau & Cully Joyce

Percussion:  Richard Clark