On Stage: Beautiful Carole King

October 29, 2015
Abby Mueller as Carole King

Abby Mueller as Carole King

I feel the earth move under my feet…

I’ve felt that way for lo so many years when I listen to Carole King’s songs, which I thought were mostly limited to her solo album, Tapestry, released in 1971. But the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by her career, Beautiful, now playing at the Benedum Center and starring a dynamic Abby Muller, proves that there was much more to this pop icon.

This is a glossy rendering of her life from a smart, talented teenager who skipped two grades and left college to become a songwriter to the self-assured artist who produced Tapestry. Along the way she married Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), her first love, husband and lyricist. It gives the musical a dramatic edge, alluding to his affairs and drug use.

It also follows the influential New York music publishing house run by Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril), along with another successful partnership there in the entertaining duo of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

The Don Kirshner studio.

The Don Kirshner studio.

 

But this is jukebox musical, similar to The Jersey Boys. It produces a back story around the surprising number of hits as it educates the public about King’s importance. She was ahead of her time, able to be an understanding wife, a mother to two children and a successful, but in some ways humble artist who follows her dream.

While some of the facts might have been surprising to the public at large, so were the tunes. Who knew that she and Goffin wrote their first big hit, Some Kind of Wonderful, for The Drifters? And Will You Love Me Tomorrow took The Shirelles to the top of the pop charts, the first black female singing group to do so?

The Drifters.

The Drifters.

It didn’t end there, with The Locomotion (Little Eva) and One Fine Day (Janelle Woods) adding to their mix of hits. The chirping Weil (Gulsvig) and and hypochondriac Mann (Ben Fankhauser) were able to mount challenges like You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (The Righteous Brothers) to give balance and comedy to the production.

And that was just the first act.

Kudos to the entire cast, 24 in all, that loomed larger with its versatility, similar in the that respect to another Tony-winning musical, Once. Not only did they execute great covers of so many familiar songs in the style of the time, but they danced and played a number of extra instruments. It’s all in the current trend of the quadruple-threat (and maybe more) performer.

The production saves some surprises for the end, including (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, the Aretha Franklin anthem that King and Goffen wrote for her. All along I felt the earth was moving and grooving, but there is a shortened version of “Earth” to add an exclamation point to it all.

This is a juicy musical chunk of rock and roll history, one to be savored. Some audience members will have lived and cherished it, others were probably just being introduced. But there is no doubt that Carole King’s legacy is both timeless and “beautiful.”

 

 

 

 


Dance Beat: Dance Films, Twyla, Dance Teachers

October 27, 2015

DANCE ON FILM. We know that the Bolshoi and Royal ballet companies have been putting out live performances aimed at mass market filmgoers for several years now. Click on Bolshoi.  Click on Royal. But it appears that there is another facet, Lincoln Center at the Movies, that has joined in the fun and, at least for the near future, will present Ballet Hispanico (CARMEN.maquia and Club Havana), New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker (having missed San Francisco Ballet and Alvin Ailey). We all know that dance looks best  in three dimensional live performances. But this is a great opportunity — at last — to see some of America’s best, a treat in itself. As a bonus, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan will be hosting. Click on Lincoln Center. Many thanks to the local Cinemark Theaters, particularly Robinson, Monroeville and Pittsburgh Mills, for presenting dance. But it has a better chance of continuing in the future if there is a bigger turnout.

THARP NICK AND EVATWYLA THARP. Although it’s a shame that Pittsburgh is not participating in her 50th Anniversary Tour, she’s ba-a-ack, and bringing former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula with her. You can catch them at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, Nov. 9-15 and in New York City Nov. 16-22. Click on Twyla for more details and check out a couple of Trapp/Coppula snippets on the Kennedy Center website. Twyla also has a knack for writing and has been keeping a journal with the New York Times. Eva and Nick have been featured in photos. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/arts/dance/monsters-unleashed.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150831&nlid=59926186&tntemail0=y&_r=0

THANK A DANCE TEACHER DAY! Probably if you’re reading this blog, you know a dance teacher or two. Local veteran Susan Gillis Kruman reminded me and I’m reminding you to mark your calendar for Dec. 1, when you can officially send them a thanks. Click on National Dance Education Organization.


Dance Beat: Loti Falk Gaffney

October 20, 2015

Maybe they knew something. Above is the tribute that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre assembled in honor of board founder Loti Falk Gaffney at the 45th Anniversary Gala last April at the Benedum Center. It was a wonderful occasion, with board members fully committed to send PBT to the next level. Her granddaughter accepted on behalf of Loti, who was too frail to travel from her home on East 66th Street in New York City.

She died there on Oct. 13 at the age of 94, surrounded by family and caretakers.

But she left behind an arts legacy that still resonates here in Pittsburgh. I watched her struggle to get PBT on its feet during the early years. And I talked with her prior to the company’s 35th anniversary for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she spoke of those difficult, yet exhilarating  times. You can read about it here.


Film: Bolshoi Ballet Series

October 9, 2015

The Bolshoi Ballet is full of drama, seen onstage in its performances and offstage in the acid thrown in the face of artistic director Sergei Filin, almost blinding him (yes, he’s still there). There is more, though, to be seen in the current Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series. So it’s Giselle, but the leads are ballerina superstar Svetlana Zakharova and, hold on, Sergei Polunin, the current “bad boy of ballet.” (Trained at The Royal Ballet, taken into the company, fast-tracked to principal status, surprisingly dropped out, much like GOP House speaker John Boehner and speaker-to-be Kevin McCarthy.) But here he is, live and on film Sunday, Oct. 11 at Cinemark Robinson Township, Monroeville Mall 12 and Cinemark 17 Pittsburgh Mills at 12:55 p.m.(click on Bolshoi). He is not listed on the company’s website, however (come to your own conclusions). Here is also the original on Vimeo (check others on YouTube). While the solo is debatable, the style is not. The tattoos are something else.


Dance Beat: Freshly Washed Ballerinas

October 4, 2015

FRESHLY WASHED BALLERINAS


On Stage: A Piquant Winter’s Tale”

October 1, 2015

The-Winters-Tale1_1200-750x400

Quantum Theatre’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” was surprisingly sumptuous, deftly moving beyond the gritty city adventures usually conjured up by artistic director Karla Boos. That doesn’t mean, though, that it was any less of an artistic escapade. This time the setting was decidedly baroque, virtually every aspect dripping with the overly refined mannerisms and overtly grand style of the 17th century, so fitting as the local company commences its 25th anniversary.

Boos took her followers Downtown to the top of the Union Trust building built by Henry Clay Frick, yes, the one with the fanciful roof on Grant Street. It’s well worth the price of the ticket, to look up at the atrium, then take one of those beautiful brass elevators to the top and get a closer look. But there’s more — a lovely little theater that Frick surprisingly included in the plans. (Check the history while you’re at it.)

The cast itself was baroque as well, 25 in all, including four dancers from Attack Theatre and an expanded accompaniment from another terrific local group, Chatham Baroque, also celebrating its 25th anniversary, and led expertly by co-creator Andres Cladera.

All the creative accoutrements contributed to the ornate feeling overall: Susan Tsu’s magnificent costumes and wigs (loved Paulina’s mini dress), C. Todd Brown’s complex lighting scheme (so on point), Tony Ferrieri’s expert extension of the original stage in front to include four small stages and a ramp enclosing the orchestra, bringing the action directly into the audience.

You could see it virtually from the start when the chorus stuck their heads through slits in the curtains, whereupon projection designer Joe Seamans started the first of his stunning visuals, an ivy-like swirl around the various singing heads. So how to fill this late, often dark, Shakespearean extravaganza, ripe with jealousy between two childhood friends, banishment and sorrow, when there already was so much?

Boos wisely directed with a feather-light touch, utilizing the various stages areas with a clarity and understanding of the various themes and plots.  Claderas and members of Chatham Baroque borrowed only from the best of the Baroque — Vivaldi, Handel, Purcell.  The recitatives, which conveyed the Shakespearean dialogue, were constructed by not only the musicians, but by Boos herself.

And, while I’m not a Shakespearean expert, it appeared that some of the arias were chosen because they fit into this operatic puzzle (Handel’s Happy We!), while others were given a twist — Hot, too hot! (Fatto inferno è il mil petto) and a title that seems more a part of an Apollo mission, The Oracle Has Landed (O Haupt poll Blut und Wunden).

Those remarkably witty veins run throughout the evening and would often sneak up and tap you on the ear. They  sounded like newfound (and brilliant) vestiges of Baroque, and probably something to be savored by a second (or third) visit to the Union Trust building.

The real contemporary accent came from Attack Theatre’s dance direction, sometimes playing various characters, other times providing an emotional element. The four company members were clad in unisex flesh-colored unitards with hand painted designs and wonderfully enhanced, remarkably without interfering in, the action. Two more highlights revolved around the appearance of the Bear and the transformation of Hermione from statue to human again. Suffice it to say that they were artfully accomplished with the use of movable screens and precise projections.

And let’s not forget the vocal cast that carried the visual/audio burden, particularly countertenor Andrey Nemzer (Autolycus), whose trills and flourishes were no less than thrilling, David Newman’s (Leontes) woeful journey of redemption and Dan Kempson’s robust love interest, Florizel.

So much to see and so little time to take in all of it. A friend of mine, who read the play in preparation, missed a few scenes that she thought should be included. I briefly thought about the length (nearly three hours) twice during the evening.  But the rewards were so rich that I immediately turned my attention back to a memorable production that will definitely be one of the top theatrical events of the year.

 

 


On Stage: Karla Feverish About “The Winter’s Tale”

September 17, 2015

Brush up your Shakespeare…or not.

When Quantum Theatre tackles a piece of theater, it always becomes its own entity, ready to lead its audiences on an adventure. That might mean an unusual work or a unique location. Or both. In this instance, ready to launch its 25th season, artistic director Karla Boos is taking on William Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”…sort of.

Yes, it’s one of the Bard’s more unusual works, sometimes labeled a comedy, sometimes a romance, sometimes a problem.  In brief, King Leontes of Sicilia gradually becomes convinced that his pregnant wife, Hermione, has had an affair with his good friend, King Polixenese of Bohemia. When the baby is born, he throws his wife in jail and sends his daughter to be abandoned in a desolate rural area.

The daughter, Perdita, survives and is raised by a kindly Shepherd. After 16 years, though, she meets Prince Florizel, son of Polixenese. Don’t fret — everyone winds up in Leontes’ court for the proverbial happy ending.

But can it become an opera?

Sort of.

Boos calls it a “pastiche,” inspired by a Metropolitan Opera production last year called “The Enchanted Island.” Could she create an original translation with not-so-original music? She could, with a lot of help. As it turned out, she and maestro Andres Cladera, who have been in cahoots three times previously, had talked about doing a Baroque production.

So they set about making their own decorative excess. Shakespeare may be borderline Baroque, but “Winter’s Tale” is not. Nor are composers like Handel and Vivaldi.

Why not add Pittsburgh’s own Chatham Baroque, also celebrating its 25th as well? And why not add to the core trio of Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson and Scott Pauley? Enter Baroque specialists like flutist Stephen Schulz, oboist Geoffrey Burgess and baritone David Newman in the role of Leontes to head a cast of 16 more. A dancerly quartet from Attack Theatre is added to the brew as well.

But what location would add to the ambiance? Boos has had her eye on the Union Trust building on Grant Street for a while, notable for its Baroquish (really Flemish/Gothic) mansard roof with terra cotta trim at the top. The inside reveals even more, including a ten-story atrium with glass dome. The elevator skims to the top, where a circular staircase and skylights await, plus a jewel box of a theater where all the activities will take place.

Yes, activities, in the best over-the-top Baroque fashion as designers Joe Seamans, Susan Tsu, Tony Ferrieri and Todd Brown confine themselves to the theater, but add a few special twists here and there.

It’s taken a full year to select existing arias and write new recitatives (which will tell the story), vetting each detail before the whole group. Should the musical structure be ABA or just AB? When Hermione defends herself in the trial, what aria should we use? (Handel’s “Crude furie,” it seems.)

Despite all the Quantum-isms, Boos firmly asserts that “Shakespeare’s play has been preserved,” still leading her “to unpathed waters, undreamed shores.”

Through Oct. 3, see Listings.

 

 

 

 

Baroque


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