Sunday
Sep232012

PUPPETS GIVE SPECTACULAR VOICE TO GROWING UP AT AVENUE Q

Childhood entertainment and wonder take command on the Cabot Theatre Stage at the Skylight Music Theatre this fall. In his final season as the Skylight’s Artistic Director, Bill Theisen opens with a tour de force production by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty in the multiple Tony award winning Avenue Q.

Avenue Q sparks the imagination and senses on every level. Director Donna Drake flawlessly merges the personalities of nine puppets with their human counterparts alongside three adult human actors in perfect sync. The effect mesmerizes the audience while including mature subject material.

Within seconds from when the performance begins, the audience visually connects the puppet to its puppeteer because the actors expertly synchronize emotionally and physically to their puppet’s character. While Jim Henson’s early 1970’s The Muppet Show for television bridged all ages and featured human guests, Avenue Q’s puppets get down and dirty yet bring that same sophisticated humor to the theater. In this very adult production that reflects an innocent Sesame Street format, the juxtaposition of childhood antics with worldly subjects heightens the meaningful content.

The results unleash a cast performing with fantastic voices, especially the stunning Kate Margaret McCann, who was last seen in the Skylight’s Rent. The actress does double duty as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. Her teacher Kate and skanky alter ego, Lucy, become infatuated with Princeton, the college graduate who is left unemployed. In McCann’s soloes, “Special,” a pole dancing, sexy torch song, or her bittersweet ballad to love, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” the singer seduces the audience with her onstage presence.

McCann only leads other stellar performances by Ben Durocher as Princeton/Rod, Tiffany Yvonne Cox playing the human celebrity, Gary Coleman and Jason Jacoby in the role of Nicky/Trekkie Monster/ Bad Idea Bear. Maya Naff charms the audience playing Christmas Eve, an Asian American (instead of an Oriental as they sing “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”) who dazzles the audience in “The More You Ruv Someone.” She’s a great counterpoint for Rick Pendrich’s Brian, the husband to Christmas Eve. 

All the technical production elements star in this production, even when a fire drill unexpectedly went off opening night while the cast completed every line and cue unfazed. Costume Designer Barry Link and Lighting Designer Jason Fassl fashion an amazing confection for Christmas Eve’s wedding dress in one number. Set Designer Lisa Schlenker seamlessly incorporates videos into the street scenery, effective and unobtrusive while Milwaukee’s Music Director Jamie Johns conducts a five-piece band that bars none in accompanying the performance.

As adults sitting in the audience realize, transitions from childhood to college and from college to a professional identity dealing in capital ventures (or perhaps merely a consultant like Brian) incorporates a journey rift with unplanned challenges. Avenue Q brings them to light on stage sparing few niceties or euphuisms through dance, music and incomparable personal talents. Commandeering a puppet, acting, singing and dancing require the highest level of excellence, and this cast shines in every scene. 

Perhaps best of all, while these monsters, puppets, and personalities encounter the ups and downs to charting purpose and success they remember dreams eventually do come true. With "doing good," hard work, professionalism and perseverance, dreams appear when they least expect it. The Skylight knows this scenario well after surviving until its 54th season. So until “our dreams do come true,” find unlimited entertainment and inspiration alive on stage at the Skylight’s spectacular Avenue Q.

The Skylight Music Theatre presents the Tony award winning Avenue Q at the Broadway Theatre Center on the Cabot Theatre Stage through October 14. When the cast goes into the theater aisles to "pass the hat" during the The Money Song, please contribute because any donations will go to the Cream City Foundation, one of the productions sponsors. If you appreciate what you see, give generously. For further donations, information or tickets please call 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.                   by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Monday
May282012

COMMENTARY: COLOR AND LIGHT CONNECT TO SEURAT’S ART AT THE SKYLIGHT

The blank page, canvas or even the stage confronts a possibility. Possibilities described through a musical written by the award winning team of composer Stephen Sondheim and  James Lapine. Possibilities to create art, pictured through the eyes of painter Georges Seurat in the team’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Sunday in the Park with George that closes the Skylight Music Theatre’s 2011-2012 season.

Sunday in the Park with George fictionalizes the account of neo-impressionist artist Seurat and his struggles to complete his grand scale masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette. The painting places “flickers of color and light” together by using tiny dots of different hued paint (renamed pointillism) so the eye optically creates another color when seeing separate dots. By this distinct mingling of art and science, the minute dots reassemble into a discernable image and portray the people who lingered in the Paris Park on Sunday afternoons.  

Seurat claimed the dots merged into “what the eye arranges beautifully.” Sondheim does this musically by transforming Seurat’s color and light into innovative theater. The Skylight indeed unveils a visually stunning production honoring his paintings from the 1880's through Van Santvoord’s impressive sets, which breathe life into Seurat’s artwork for the audience. Similar to Shima Orans’ bustled, confection colored period costumes. Or Milwaukee’s Jason Fassl, who dazzles audiences in the second act with a light show that represents a legacy to the acclaimed painter through the work of his distant grandson. Musical Director Richard Carsey and Conductor Jamie Johns also accompany the evocative performance with an eight-piece orchestra. 

Gifted Broadway actor Sean Allan Krill plays Georges and his progeny to emotionally capture the enigmatic life of an artist. How an artist’s love and passion conflicts with his personal life and meaningful relationships, often leading to social isolation. Seurat’s mistress Dot reflects another conflict, carried out on stage by the compelling Alison Mary Forbes in a memorable career role. While Dot admires and loves Georges, her alliance with the likeable Louis the Baker played by Tommy Hahn promises her attention and security. To provide a dependable father for Seurat’s baby waiting to be born.

Sondheim and Lapine change the historical dynamics to grant the audience a glimpse of 20th century art. While Seurat’s renowned masterpiece now hangs in a prestigious collection of late 19th century paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, his son birthed by his mistress died shortly after Seurat did, two lives cut tragically short. Sondheim gives the audience Seurat’s daughter Marie so the creative lineage continues while the lyrical wit and wordplay connect in the number Putting It Together, or The Art of Making Art. 

Any actor, artist, choreographer, composer or writer understands these dilemmas Sondheim discusses with sublime theatrics. The complex sacrifices and dedication required to completing a project in this decade, financial and otherwise, includes obsessing over ‘cocktail conversation.’ Lapine and Sondheim upend the perceived romantic life supposedly lived by artists. An artist’s compulsion to dream something, create something special and worthwhile from a blank space when obstacles appear. Making art constitutes hard, valuable work although the world might denigrate that worth. 

That blank page or stage, a clean canvas, produces fresh optimism from dark circumstances in this musical, which provides redemption for the audience. Despite life’s losses and changes, Seurat’s love and passion for color, flecks of light and dark, crystallized into beauty. Seeing something else no one else could see, an artist’s unique contribution. Seurat proclaimed, “This gave greater intensity to the all color and light… that shimmers from the heart.”

Skylight’s marvelous production emotionally shimmers from the heart, a must see performance to end their performance season. Which encourages the audience to purchase a subscription for the coming year. Exceptional art will rarely be easy or inexpensive to create, which then requires unparalleled determination and vision to produce in any medium. Connect with Seurat’s color and light at the Cabot theatre. Find its beauty seen through artists’ eyes that in love stare at a blank white space and think: “So many possibilities.” 

The Skylight Music Theatre presents Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George at the Broadway Theatre Center through June 10. For information on a subscription for the 2012-2013 season or to purchase tickets please call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.       By Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
Apr302012

THE PASSION OF PIANO AND PERCUSSION DING A LING A FABULOUS SKYLIGHT NIGHT

Make a night "ding" at the Skylight Music Theatre in the Broadway Theatre complex! The Company’s original percussion and piano production Things That Go Ding opened last weekend to standing ovations for the passionate performances of Michael Lorenz, Jamie Johns and Ray Jivoff.

An audience will completely succumb to a performance’s thrill whenever musicians play an entire evening with such consuming passion. Passion combined with wild and crazy fun that blings, dings, pings, sings and rings with Johns’ piano and approximately 170 (per the Skylight Staff) modern and vintage percussion instruments at Lorenz’s finger tips and visible on the set. Throughout the zany evening this trio of performers changed hats almost as fast as Lorenz changed instruments, which added to the stage excitement experienced right before the audience’s eyes.

Whether Lorenz is clinking wine glasses, clashing cymbals, tinkling pots and pans or tooting his horns, Lorenz amazed the audience with his exceptional ability and energy. In fact, he made playing these instruments appear so easy that his stage presence hid how proficient Lorenz remained after more than 100 performances at the Skylight Theatre. This statistic omits the hundreds of other venues where he's valued for his percussion. Milwaukee’s Jamie Johns presented the same persona. He is so masterful at tinkling these ivories the audience becomes so focused on the entertaining humor in the production while each person’s incredible theatrical gifts eventually fade into the background. 

This phenomenon occurred when the production offered a screening of a 1931 silent Tom and Jerry cartoon titled “Wot A Night.” To recreate the 30’s movie theater, the cartoon ran on the stage while Johns and Lorenz completed all music and sound effects. One forgot that the two played in perfect sync while viewing this delightful animation from the past.

Jivoff interspersed more comic relief and narrated the show with his own unique personality. He immortalized childhood favorite Mr. Rogers by dressing in a green cardigan and singing several songs from the award winning television series to showcase a keyboard called a Celeste. (A Celeste sounds like bell chimes.) His songs visibly touched one woman so that her throat knotted up with memories when she said softly, “I was born in the ‘60's. I loved Mr. Rogers.”

Another incredible moment came in the second act when Lorenz performed a personal composition on the Caisa, a hand pan drum or steel drum a musician can play by touching it with his palms. His mesmerizing music for wind chimes and the nine-note hand made Caisa literally took one’s breath away in this fabulous tribute to the exotic instrument and Lorenz’s talent.

One will think of any ding in a completely different way after watching these three performers. Go to the Skylight’s incredibly magic production. Laugh and sing (they do encourage this at times) and listen to every ding a ling while admiring this vast array of percussion instruments. Then remember that this evening with Lorenz, Johns and Jivoff may linger in musical memory forever.

The Skylight Music Theatre presents the fabulous Things That Go Ding only through May 6. Their next production Sunday in the Park with George begins May 18 with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, and book by James Lapine. For further information or tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.    by Peggy Sue Dunigan 

 

Monday
Mar122012

LOVE STORY UNFOLDS WOMEN’S HISTORY IN THE SKYLIGHT’S DADDY LONG LEGS

An orphan girl named Jerusha Abbott, a name taken from the phone book, expects nothing from life when she turns 18 in New York, the year 1904. Until a mysterious benefactor chooses to send her to college instead of a promising young man, a rare privilege for a girl at the turn of the 20th century. The Skylight Music Theatre stages this heartwarming transition from young girl to womanhood in one of the world premieres of the musical Daddy Long Legs in the Cabot Theatre through April 1.   

Daddy Long Legs features music and lyrics by the award winning Paul Gordon with the book written by John Caird, who also directs the production. The original story was authored by Jean Webster, adapted from one of the writer’s most popular novels published in 1912 that explored educating women and relevant social issues when the feminine vote was still in debate. 

Women under 40 may be quite unaware of how many women came before them, struggled to provide them with equal rights in athletics, acquiring credit, property rights and securing running for public office and their vote. These women may forget that teenage girls in 1960 were still required to wear dresses to high school, sports were unheard of except for synchronized swimming or water ballet. Even credit cards were unavailable to women in the 1970’s and depended on the income of their husbands. When living in 2012, these facts may appear utterly absurd, although women in some countries are still banned from voting.   

If these situations sound unreal, Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis) becomes the charming means for recalling these truisms while she writes letters to her benefactor who she named Daddy Long Legs. A fitting moniker because he asked to remain anonymous and Jerusha caught one glimpse of him leaving the orphanage, only noticing his very lanky legs.

Along her four-year college path, Jerusha’s letters write their way into the soul of Jervis Pendleton (Robert Adelman Hancock), the handsome, tall and young instead of old. greying person Jersusha imagines as her lifeline. McGinnis embodies the daring and delightful Jerusha, who sings songs such as “Like Other Girls” and “Things I Didn’t Know” to capture the essence of spanning her educational and social gaps, which girls in contemporary situations could relate to. How could Jerusha think Michelangelo was an archangel instead of a Renaissance painter, didn’t the name sound like one? 

Similarly, Hancock evocatively wonders what attracts him to this curious and passionate girl who slowly encourages him to read everything she’s studying at college. Yet, somehow maintains her empathy for those in an orphanage. When Jerusha begins signing her letters with love, Hancock beautifully imagines this dilemma in the lyrical “When Shall We Meet?” 

While the Cinderella story can appear predictable, McGinnis and Hancock never act as their characters are. When the two bend down on their knees for the finale, “All This Time,” the audience will meet the pair where they are, in one's heart.  An audience could listen to McGinnis and Hancock sing all evening long, and then two hours more, which includes the winsome “The Color of Your Eyes.” 

Daddy Long Legs becomes musical theater for every age, especially young women, although men will definitely appreciate the couple's journey. An audience will lose themselves watching this enchanting tale, the richly appointed set created by David Farley, the dates of the letters scripted on the stage in light designed by Paul Toben, and the live orchestration by Musical Director Julie McBride.  

This story where a woman becomes all she was meant to be while discovering a man who cherishes her for her charity and intelligence will constantly be timeless. A production meant to be experienced in Milwaukee before the musical could travel to Broadway. In a world obsessed with physical beauty and celebrity, Jerusha and Jervis remind 21st century audiences what women suffered in achieving independence while recalling what really matters in life. Heartily applaud the Skylight’s Daddy Long Legs while appreciating the song that notes this is “The Secret to Happiness.” 

The Skylight Music Theatre presents the musical Daddy Long Legs in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through April 1. For tickets or information call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

 

Sunday
Jan292012

SKYLIGHT WOOS A NEW AUDIENCE WITH GERSHWIN AND FRIENDS

To begin the new month on February 1, the Skylight Opera changes its name to the Skylight Music Theatre ithat will redefine the company’s mission. American music definitely defined that mission last weekend when the Skylight reprised an enhanced production of the revue from December 2010, Gershwin and Friends.

The performance begins in the home of George Gershwin when he’s celebrating his birthday with a grand party off stage. Cynthia (Cynthia Cobb) and Parrish (Parrish Collier) work as caterers in a back bar where they sing and dance while Paul (Paul Helm) plays the musician who always finds himself the second fiddle to the real Gershwin at the ivories on the piano. 

Helm beautifully accompanies Cobb and Collier through a first act comprised completely of Gershwin melodies. Most of them encourage spooning and wooing: “Embraceable You, Someone to Watch Over Me” and a classical suite of songs taken from the show Porgy and Bess. Several evocative duets from Gershwin’s opera will culminate in an upbeat number used in the Gene Kelly showpiece, An American in Paris, the popular "Our Love is Here to Stay.” 

Cobb radiates in these stage performances while Collier provides the cool machismo. Especially when the second act opens by moving the musical action to a Harlem nightclub that introduces tunes by Gershwin’s friends...Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, which adds the expert Tom McGirr on Bass and Michael Lorenz on Drums and Vibes. 

Cobb’s rendition of “Hit Me With a Hot Note And Watch Me Bounce” sizzles along with McGirr's bass solo. When she croons “Ain’t Misbehavin'” written by Waller, Cobb suanters into the theater aisles to flirt. One certainly wishes that Cobb would have magnified that voice and soloed on Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song that brings memorable longing to the soul. Lorenz embellished this melody by playing his haunting marimba, very good vibes.   

The entertaining evening ends with a sing a long to showcase all four fabulous composers who helped define the Great American Song Book, those less familiar tunes along with old favorites: “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Ellington), “Sin to Tell a Lie” (Waller), “It’s only a Paper Moon” (Arlen) and “They All Laughed” (Gershwin). 

After the audience finished the evening with this rousing chorus, applause greeted the trio, with Cobb leading the way to this pleasurable two hours. Her hot notes accompanied by Collier and Helm will heat up a night to woo that special someone before Valentine’s Day. 

Or extend the romance after the performance by taking in the “Hot Jazz on a Cold Winter Night” in the Skylight Bar and Bistro, which features Jamie Johns (great piano) Michael Lorenz, (amazing percussion) and Olusegun Sijuwade (smooth saxophone) to Shari Williams Pannell’s sultry vocals. Enjoy a cocktail with a dessert provided by Indulge, who also offer their frosted cupcakes and chocolate truffles during the evening performance's intermission. 

The Skylight Music Theatre presents Gershwin and Friends in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through February 12, with special promotions for Valentine’s Day. For more information, call 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan