Tag: Erin Renee Baumrucker
An impressive revival of Sondheim’s sex comedy classic
|Circle Theatre presents|
|A Little Night Music|
|Music/Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Bob Knuth
at Circle Theatre, Oak Park (map)
through June 5 | tickets: $22-$26 | more info
Reviewed by Oliver Sava
Stephen Sondheim’s musicals often contain an element of nostalgic regret, focusing on characters that look back on their muddled pasts in hopes of achieving, as A Little Night Music’s Desirée Armfeldt (Anita Hoffman) says, “A coherent future.” The aging artists of Follies, the fairy tales of Into The Woods, Sweeney Todd’s titular anti-hero – these are just a few of the composer’s characters that are faced with the consequences time brings, and A Little Night Music is one of the most chronology-focused musicals in Sondheim’s canon. Key words like “now,” “soon,” “later,” and “meanwhile” are repeated to emphasize the passage of time, unified by the inquisitive “remember” that sparks the characters’ trips down memory lane. The past, present, and future intersect in a delicate waltz, and Sondheim writes most of the show’s music in ¾ time, overlapping the melodic themes with his signature complexity and precision.
Bob Knuth’s staging is similar to Trevor Nunn’s recent Broadway revival, with a similarly clean, white-washed set design also from Knuth, and the production’s technical aspects have a similar level of polish. Elizabeth Powell Wislar’s costume design is particularly stunning, and these characters are dressed with the level of elegance and sophistication worthy of their status. Knuth assembles a cast that handles the difficult music especially well, layering the moving voice parts with a great sense of timing, and crisp articulation that is much appreciated during intense numbers like “Weekend in the Country” where multiple parts are being sung simultaneously. Desirée’s five actor companions serve as an observing chorus, and they begin the show with an overture that establishes the melodies that will be revisited throughout the show. In the temporal context of the show, the overture becomes more than just a collection of the show’s most memorable tunes, but rather plants seeds that will later be cultivated by the other actors in the ensemble.
This is a musical about relations – husbands and wives, parents and children, the young and the old – and despite the occasional instance of overacting, Knuth’s cast succeeds in building the character connections that are elevated by Sondheim’s rich music. Hoffman anchors the production with her captivating portrayal of Desirée, capturing the weariness that comes with the touring life and the desire to finally obtain a life of stability with her daughter Fredrika (Alicia Hurtado). When she reunites with her past lover Fredrik Egerman (Kirk Swenk), she sees an opportunity to finally have the life she dreams of, but Fredrik’s eighteen-year-old wife Anne (Stephanie Stockstill) stands in their way. Matters are further complicated by Desirée’s preexisting affair with an insanely jealous dragoon Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jeremy W. Rill), whose destitute wife Charlotte (Deanna Boyd) tells Anne about Desirée’s affairs with both their husbands.
As Desirée’s partners, Swenk and Rill both showcase strong vocals, and there’s a clear contrast in their affection for Ms. Armfeldt. Fredrick genuinely longs for her on an emotional, whereas Malcolm desires her on a solely sexual level, and Rill gives Malcolm an exaggerated arrogance that works for the character, especially with his powerful singing. As his wife Charlotte, Boyd gives the character an appropriately dreary disposition, but she becomes too much of a caricature when her character breaks out of her depression. Stockstill’s Anne is delightfully naïve at the start of the show, still a child despite having been married for eleven months. The adorable flirtation between Anne and her step-son Henrik (Patrick Tierney) shows how innocent she is in comparison to women like the Egermans’ amorous maid Petra (Khaki Pixley), depicting an Anne who is anxious to explore her sexuality but not with her own aging husband.
Stockstill has a beautiful singing voice, and her duet with Boyd, “Everyday A Little Death” is a heartbreaking revelation that underneath the sexual comedy these are people in pain. Henrik is the play’s bleakest character, and Tierney does admirable work balancing the character’s jaded opinion of the world with a desire to find the kind of the love that he so publicly renounces. Tierney, along with Rill, has some of the most difficult music in the show, and while there are times that he could use some more support to stay on key, he does strong work with difficult material.
Fredrika and her grandmother Madame Armfeldt (Patti Roeder) represent the two ends of the time spectrum, as Madame lives in the past, while Fredrika is constantly looking toward the future. Roeder’s solo “Liaisons” could be considered the play’s theme, a meditation on how the affairs of her past have been grow more beautiful with age while the longing to return to them grows more painful. At the end of the play, Madame Armfeldt regrets turning away one of her lovers for giving her a wooden ring, lamenting the lost opportunity for true love. Desirée has a similar epiphany in “Send in the Clowns,” impeccably performed by Hoffman, where she finally exposes her true feelings to Fredrik before time passes them by again. After spending the play trying to recapture the past as a way to fix the present, she takes the leap into a future with Fredrik. When his responsibilities to Anne prevent him from jumping with her, Desirée ends the song with a defeated yet optimistic, “Maybe next year.” Time passes and things change. Things grow with time and they die with time. But perhaps the greatest power of time is the hope that the future brings, healing the wounds of the past and making the present an easier place to live.
All images by Bob Knuth.
A musical about golf, and not much else
|Endpoint Theatre presents|
|Book and Lyrics by Mary Hutchings Reed
Composed and Directed by Curtis Powell
at Second Unitarian Church, 656 W. Barry (map)
through Feb 13 | tickets: $32 | more info
Reviewed by Oliver Sava
A note in the Fairways program emphasizes that the musical is “not meant to be a serious work, just a whole lot of fun for the actors and audience.” The problem with that sentiment is that $32 is a serious price for ticket, especially for a brand new company in a competitive neighborhood. Despite the non-serious nature of the musical, there still needs to be some sort of emotional reality beneath the characters, and both the book and music of Fairways are obstacles for the actors in reaching that place of honesty. Now, I don’t play golf. I don’t have any emotional attachment to the sport, but my enjoyment of Fairways as a musical shouldn’t require me to be a golfer. If anything, it should make me want to pick up a club and hit the green myself, yet Reed’s predictable book and forgettable lyrics do nothing to make golf intriguing.
The show begins in 15th century Scotland, where the local men are looking for a way to pass the time as they tend their crops and flocks. The opening number is cute and the actors are certainly enjoying themselves, but problems already begin to appear in the beginning moments, with some actors in Scottish dialect while others are in Irish. After the ensemble shares a pint, the action shifts to the present, where Betsy O’Neill (Jeanne T. Arrigo) is trying to teach her daughter Kathy (Erin Renée Baumrucker) to golf, in hopes that it may win her the Mother-Daughter Tournament and add some spark to her daughter’s love life. The relationship between the two women feels like a mother and her preteen daughter rather than two mature adults, and the jokes in Reed’s script are painfully cheesy. “Golf will be good for you, like yoga.” “That’s a stretch.” Groan. Fairways is Reed’s first stage work, and her dialogue never quite sounds like natural human speech, with the characters shirking away from any forms of subtlety or subtext and speaking as directly as possible. The result is that the dialogue becomes a tool to move the plot forward and not much else, giving little insight into the emotional life of these golfers.
As Betsy instructs Kathy, Byron Mackay (Jay Cook) is teaching his son Sam (Jamie Watkins) the game so that he can impress his Boss (Michael Bragg). Sam is dating Joan Woods (Erin Lovelace), the daughter of Betsy’s rival Nancy (Regina Webster), and the mother-daughter duo is unanimously hated by the golf club. If the plot is beginning to sound a little busy, it is, and nothing really gets fleshed out to the point that it becomes believable. Betsy and Byron sing a duet about golf called “Do Nothing,” a song that praises “a game about life, a game about nothing at all.” That is the main flaw with Fairways: nothing has consequence. Almost all of the Act 1 musical numbers are just explanations of different elements of golf: terminology (“Talking The Talk”), lessons (“Really Very Easy”), scoring (“Gimme A Six”), things to say when someone has a bad shot (“Nice Shot”), new equipment (“New Shoe Soft Shoe”), and practice ranges (the terrible “Practice Range Rap”). The only song that offers any sort of insight into a real problem is “Why Can’t He See?”, Kathy’s solo after she scares Sam away by being too aggressive. And while the exchange before is so tame that the stakes aren’t really there when the song begins, credit to Powell for trying to tell an emotional story through song.
The same problems continue through Act 2, but the plot becomes even muddier with the introduction of Anika (Lovelace), a client for Sam’s firm that played golf in college. We are already supposed to be invested in a love triangle between Sam, Kathy, and Joan (despite having not even seen Sam and Joan in a scene together), and the addition of another character just weakens the already strained story. The plots aren’t very developed, so they are easily wrapped up, and the show comes to its predictable conclusion as the audience learns that “in the game of love and fairways, the best course is honesty.” The actors really do look like they’re having a great time while they perform, and much of the music is well sung, but it’s all so insubstantial that it’s hard to care.
“Show, don’t tell” is a major problem in Fairways. The audience is told how the characters feel about each other rather than gaining these opinions through character interactions. People are constantly commenting about the relationship between Sam amd Joan, yet the only instance we see the two together is for their inevitable breakup. Or instead of showing how golf affects the characters on a personal level, the music just takes an element of the sport, and explains it through song. As an inaugural production, Fairways gives the impression that Endpoints is more concerned with getting the works of Artistic Director Curt Powell produced than creating works of strong musical theater. The script, music, and technical aspects of the show (some background images even contain huge watermarks from iStockPhoto) don’t match the quality of musicals with tickets nearly half the price, making Fairways a hard sell even for the most avid gold fan.
Come To The Circle!
|Quest Theatre Ensemble presents|
|The People’s Drum Circle Pandora|
|Conceived and Directed by Andrew Park
at St. Gregory’s Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory (map)
thru September 19 | tickets: FREE | more info
Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins
Quest Theatre Ensemble has created a community experience in the truest sense of the word with Drum Circle Pandora. This is actually theatre of the people where in the audience is encouraged to participate in a celebratory manner. Many theatres try too hard to draw the audience into an alternative reality for a short time. Quest, however, provides a dizzying array of percussion instruments for the audience to use, allowing participants to create the production on a primal level.
The first act is the drum circle part of the evening. Drum circles invite people to release emotion and raise inner consciousness through communal drumming and singing. Quest expertly uses this vehicle, then, to create an open and receptive audience-experience. The audience is first given a lesson in achieving different sounds from the drums by cast member Aimee Bass, aka ‘Sister Drum’. Bass is accompanied by Kim DeVore, aka ‘Sister Didge’. Bass and DeVore are exceptional musicians; their charismatic presence adds color and intensity to the music emanating from their chosen instruments.
Act two, which adds an electric ensemble to the first act performers, is centered on the myth of Pandora – but with a twist: Pandora was not responsible for all of the evils of the world. Instead, by opening the box, Pandora illuminated what was already there. This makes it possible for humankind to see that the perception of evil comes from within as does all good and hope. Creator Andrew Park provides a Greek Chorus of Brother Sun and the Sunshine Girls to accompany Pandora’s journey. Jason Bowen plays the role of Brother Sun with great humor and a touch of lusty naughtiness.
In the tradition of musicals such as Hair and O Calcutta, songs are anthems to moral restraints breaking free. But Pandora instead explores the responsibility that springs from that freedom. The quandaries are still the same in every era. How does humanity ignore what we have wrought? There is poverty, war, and environmental ravages, but people choose not to put light on the situation. While the entire cast does a wonderful job of dancing and singing, Angelica Keenan does a star turn in the title role. Her skills as a dancer are excellent. One unfortunate exception, however, is a dance she performs while wearing boots, a clunky costume choice that literally hampers the beauty of her movement and the gravity of the scene. Ms. Keenan is paired with Merrill Matheson as her spouse Epemethious. Matheson is excellent in portraying societal denial with the personas of businessman, husband etc.
A wonderful ensemble featuring music in arena rock style enhances the song productions, harkening back to the Rick Wakeman days of the group Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer in their heyday. The addition of a didgeridoo by Ms. DeVore adds a sinister and primordial shading to Act 2. The music underscores the archetypal essence of the Pandora myth, i.e., women are usually to blame for the downfall of man in patriarchal tales. There was Eve and her apple, before her Lillith and concurrently Pandora. Drum Circle Pandora seeks to put an equal spin on how it all went down and how everyone must look at what we create in full light as the ultimate solution for harmony, prosperity, and good stewardship of the environment. In the process, Quest creates a timely tale, especially considering the state of the world at the moment.
A special mention must be given to the production’s set design and scenic artistry. Nick Rupard and Julie Taylor have done a fabulous job of alternating cyc walls and moveable scenery. Whether it is sunflowers or destruction, the sets are lush, giving added depth to the action. The masks and puppetry by Megan Hovany are exceptional as well. Drum Circle Pandora is a rich and crazy carnival for the eyes and ears. You will be singing the theme song ‘Come To The Circle’ long after you leave the theatre.
The mission of Quest Theatre Ensemble is to provide free access to theatre for everyone. The productions are free of charge but donations are welcome – and will certainly help the company buy more instruments and to help spread the word about the production. Drum Circle Pandora is best for ages 12 and up, as some scenes are quite intense. Also, other than the drumming, I’m not sure if kids younger than 12 will understand the premise (though I’m speaking from a mother’s perspective).
Drum Circle Pandora runs every Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Admission is free but reservations are encouraged and honored. The theatre is located at Quest’s Blue Theatre – 1609 W. Gregory. It is in the St. Gregory the Great School building that is accessible by CTA. Go and get your drum on as the summer wanes!