Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Side Man" hit just the right notes for the Jazz Fest

Dan Smith, Michael Harbach, Jamie Howard, and Richard Bradbury in a scene from "Side Man."
 
By Cheryl Thornburg
Whether you love jazz or up-close and personal theater, Shoestring Production’s “Side Man” delivered the best of both worlds as it helped kick off the annual Berks Jazz Fest last week.  Unfortunately there were only five performances, so those of you who missed it, will have to hope that the show is reprised for next year’s festival.
The Tony Award-winning play tells the story of Gene, a multi-talented jazz musician, as seen through the eyes of his son, Clifford. As rock ’n roll takes center stage and the demand for jazz musicians fades, Gene and his family and fellow musicians try to cope with the new reality.
Director Kirk Lawrence assembled a phenomenal cast to bring these complex characters to life. At the heart of the story are Gene, his wife, Terry, and his son, Clifford.
Richard Bradbury is incredible as the detached  Gene, who only seems to come to life when he’s playing. His interpretation was so real, that I felt I was eavesdropping on his life.
Countering his aloof calm is Tama McConnell as the outgoing and in-your-face Terry, who gradually slips into alcoholism as their relationship crumbles. McConnell is dynamic on stage whether she’s being playful and funny in the early years, or frustrated and angry after the marriage falls apart.
Dallas Mugno is so believable as the product of these two that you feel his insecurity as he tries to mediate between them. His is a sensitive and poignant interpretation of Clifford.
The remaining cast is equally talented, bringing depth, color and humor to this exquisitely written play. They create an inside look at the unique world and lifestyles of the jazz era.
Michael Harbach is fun to watch as the irrepressible Ziggy who seems to survive everything with a smile and a joke.
Jonesy, on the other hand, played by Dan Smith, represents the dark side of the lifestyle with its drug abuse. Smith delivers his lines, which often elicit laughter, without losing sight of the man beneath the stereotype.
Rounding out the band is Jamie Howard, a relative newcomer to the stage, as the easy-going Al. Howard easily keeps up with his more seasoned cohorts.
Flirting with him – and every other man around – is Patsy, a horn-player groupee, played to the hilt by Kathleen Newville. She brings a warmth to this character and fits right in with the gang.
The conversations flow easily, the friendships seem real and the characters ring true.  Warren Leight’s script is brilliant and it is delivered brilliantly by this cast.

What made this show even more special was the setting.  Building 24 in Wyomissing was converted to a jazz club atmosphere and prior to the show, the Ken Blekicki Five, set the tone and the mood with tunes that took me back to some smoky basement jazz clubs in Boston in the ’60s. It was a great entertainment package, well-worth the $25 ticket price.
Though the curtain has closed on “Side Man,” the Berks Jazz Fest continues through April 1.   For more on remaining performances, see below:

BERKS JAZZ FEST

The 22nd annual Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, continues through April 1 and features an array of musical styles including contemporary and traditional jazz, blues and world music. More than 130 events at major venues, clubs and restaurants throughout Pennsylvania’s Greater Reading have made this a truly unique music festival. 

This week, Pat Martino Night at the Miller Center for the Arts, Tuesday, March 27. The evening kicks off with a screening of his documentary, "Martino Unstrung: A Brain Mystery" at 7 p.m., followed by a concert with Pat Martino and his trio at 8 p.m.. He will sign copies of his new autobiography, "Here and Now! The Autobiography of Pat Martino" after the show.
Wednesday, March 28, Tommy Castro's Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue featuring Castro, Magic Dick, Joe Louis Walker and Deanna Bogart is at the Crowne Plaza Reading at 7:30 p.m.; Greg Hatza ORGANization is at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at 7 p.m.
Thursday, March 29, at 8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza brings our very popular Berks All-Star Jazz Jam with Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Veasley, Mindi Abair, Andy Snitzer, Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, David Benoit, Brian Culbertson, Nick Colionne, Dean Brown, Brian Bromberg, Lionel Cordew, David Pack, Karen Briggs and Matt King -- and more!

The weekend kicks off Friday, March 30, at 7 p.m. with Boney James at the Scottish Rite Cathedral and The Dean Brown Group at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base. At 7:30 p.m. is piano2piano with Brian Culbertson and David Benoit at the Miller Center, and for blues fans, the Joe Krown Trio plus Debbie Davies Band at the Inn at Reading. Minas is bringing Brazilian Carnaval to Berks at 9 p.m. at Reverb @ 1402 N. Ninth St.
For late-night jazz fans,  Mindi Abair, David Pack and Jeff Golub perform at 10 p.m. at the Crowne; Dean Brown Group at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base for a second show at 10; followed by the very popular 'Round Midnight Jam with Gerald Veasley & Friends at the Base.
Jazz on Saturday, March 31, kicks off at 2 p.m. with Spyro Gyra plus Nick Colionne at the Crowne Plaza, followed by two shows of Chuck Loeb's Plain 'n' Simple at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at 7 and 10; Will Downing and Gerald Albright at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral; New Faces of Jazz: Anat Cohen plus Eldar at 7:30 p.m. at the Miller Center; blues
with Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and Clarence Spady at 7:30 p.m. at the Inn at Reading; the Groovemasters at 9 p.m. at Reverb @ 1402 N. Ninth St., Incognito featuring Maysa at 10 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza; and the final 'Round Midnight Jam at the Base.
The final day of the Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest, Sunday, April 1, features a 10 a.m. brunch/11 a.m. show with Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo at the Inn at Reading; RnR with Richard Elliot and Rick Braun at the Crowne Plaza at 2 p.m.; and an evening with Chick Corea at the Miller Center at 7 p.m.
The 22nd annual festival closes with Brian Culbertson at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
For more information, including ticketing, artist bios and archived releases, visit the Berks Jazz Fest website, www.berksjazzfest.com

Friday, March 23, 2012

Final weekend for 3 great shows


March has been a great month so far for local theater, and this is the final weekend for three very different shows.

TOYS IN THE ATTIC

“Toys in the Attic” at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center is a chilling drama about dark family dynamics. Lillian Hellman’s characters are memorable and the actors  make them come to life.  The  title phrase “toys in the attic”  is as southern term for crazy.  For a complete review, go to: http://curtaincallpottsmerc.blogspot.com/2012/03/toys-in-attic-is-up-close-look-into.html
Remaining shows are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, 245 E. High St. in Pottstown, Tickets may be purchased at www.tripac.org or at the door the night of the show if available.  There are discounts for groups of 10 or more.  Check the website, or call the theater at 610-970-1199 for more information.
 PARENTAL GUIDANCE IS SUGGESTED FOR THIS SHOW.

MAN OF LA MANCHA 

Broadway-caliber performances of the timeless music from “Man of La Mancha” make Genesius Theatre’s production a theater experience not to be missed.Based on Miguel de Cervantes’ novel "Don Quixote," the musical uses a play-within-a play format to tell the timeless story of Don Quixote, as well as Cervantes himself. To hear  “ The Impossible Dream” sung live is worth the trip.

Remaining performances of "Man of La Mancha" are Friday and Saturday March 23, and 24 at 8 p.m. The theatre is located at 10th and Walnut streets in Reading.  Genesius has free parking next to the theater, just off 10th Street and is handicap accessible. 
The show was almost sold out its first weekend, so call for reservations.
For tickets and more information visit the Genesius website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call the Genesius Reservation Hot-Line at 610-373-9500 for tickets with a credit card or 610-371-8151 for non credit card reservations or for questions or show times.  Tickets are also available at Online at Tix.com

SIDE MAN

There are only two more performances of Shoestring Productions’ “Side Man” tonight (Friday March 23) at 7 p.m. and Sunday March 25 at 3 p.m. at Building 24 in Wyomissing.
  The play by Warren Leight, won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Play. It is a tender and emotional memory play about the upheaval in the family of a jazz musician at the dawn of the age of Rock-and-Roll.  
  The doors open 2 hours prior to each performance for dining and drinking. A jazz quintet, The Ken Blekicki Five, will play one hour prior to the performance.
   Side Manis a cinematic play, moving fluidly between 1953 and 1985. The life of jazz musician Gene Glimmer and his wife Terry is revealed to us through the eyes of their son, Clifford. As Gene and his fellow jazz sidemen hang blindly to a musical time threated with extinction by the advent of the age of Rock and Roll, Clifford struggles to keep his family together.
   The show is presented by Shoestring Productions in association with Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest and Building 24.
   “Side Man” will be presented at Building 24 Kitchen and Bar, which will be transformed into a jazz club with table and chair seating. Drinks will be available from the lounge bar. Dining is available in the Building 24 or The Works restaurant. Please visit www.berksjazzfest.com for more information.
   Tickets are $25. Seating is unreserved.  For tickets, visit the tickets page at berksjazzfest.com. Tickets are also available by phone – 610-777-2310  or in person at CD Exchange, 360 E. Wyomissing Ave., Mohnton, Pa. CD Exchange is open Tuesday through Saturday during regular business hours.
 Building 24 is located at 1115 Bern Road in Wyomissing, next to The Works. 

   The production is rated PG-13 for  strong language and adult situations.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Genesius’ ‘Man of La Mancha’ is a dream of a production


 By Cheryl Thornburg
If you’re searching for classic Broadway theater, your quest is ended.  Genesius Theatre is presenting the timeless “Man of La Mancha” and it is inspiring as ever. Incredible performances by the lead actors make this a theater experience not to be missed.
Based on Miguel de Cervantes’ novel "Don Quixote,"
the musical uses a play-within-a play format to tell the timeless story of Don Quixote, as well as Cervantes himself.
It opens in a prison where Cervantes and his friend are being held during the Spanish Inquisition. After being threatened by the other prisoners, he offers to put on a play as his defense in the prisoners’ “court.”  Thus he becomes Alonso Quijana, an aging Spanish gentleman who envisions himself as Don Quixote, a knight errant in a search of truth and justice.  His friend becomes his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, who follows him on his quest.
After battling windmills that he believes are giants, despite Sancho’s efforts to convince him otherwise, he goes in search of his lady, someone to “love pure and chaste from afar.”
He finds her in a barmaid named Aldonza, whom he calls Dulcinea, setting in motion life-changing events for many involved in several “worlds.” There is the world of Cervantes in prison, the “real world” of Quijana, and the world seen through Don Quixote’s eyes.
Kevin Cooper is magnificent as the idealistic Don Quixote, delivering the unforgettable “Impossible Dream” with passion and using subtle changes in body language and inflection to convey three different characters. He presents Quixote’s cryptic wisdom such as “Facts are the enemy of truth” with such sincerity that the audience is caught up in his view of life.
It’s hard to tell who is having more fun, Christopher Sperat as Sancho, or the audience watching his antics. Sperat’s strong acting, comedic and vocal skills create a Sancho that is fun to watch as well as a friend that most people would like to have by their side.  His vocal talents shine on “Man of la Mancha,” a duet with Cooper and in “A Little Gossip.”
Meegan Gagnon is fiery and dynamic as the feisty Aldonza who fends off the advances of the boisterous and amorous Muleteers in “It’s All the Same.”  As she becomes confused by Quixote’s attention and devotion, she shows a softer side in “What Does He Want of Me?” and in the final reprise of ”The Impossible Dream.”
There are many great moments with the secondary characters, too numerous to mention individually, but here are some highlights:
Nathan Metz is delightful and hilarious as the barber whose gold-colored barber’s bowl become a magic hat in  “The Golden Helmet of Mambrino.”
The cheeky trio “I’m Only Thinking of Him,’ is catchy with saucy performances by Kathryn Ott, as Antonia, the niece;, and Cathy Miller, as the bousekeeper; with  a pious  Peter Bourey, as the padre.  Bourey’s clear tenor is also perfection in “The Psalm” in the final act.
Randall Gerber turns in some memorable scenes as the innkeeper, particularly in “The Dubbing” where he bestows knighthood on Quixote.
Rounding out the cast are Benjamin Ruth as the Duke and Dr, Sanson Carrasco; Tony Perez, Pat Malarkey, Greg Harwell, Jonathan Browning, Kyle Feltenberger, and Brandon Kegerize  as the Muleteers; Kelly Elizabeth Schmehl, as the inkeeper’s wife and Julia Elberfield and Christina Ferlazzo as gypsies. All of the actors play several characters in this ensemble cast.

The show is directed by LJ Fecho, with Christopher Sperat as musical director. Andrew Cusano is the conductor. Choreography is by Amanda Guiswite and Michael Roman. The combat scenes are choreographed by Benjamin Ruth. Costume design is by Cathy Miller.
The complicated, multi-level set with its movable staging, and drop-down platform is very effective.  I was designed by Kyle Feltenberger and LJ Fecho.
There are no intermissions for this production.
Remaining performances of "Man of La Mancha" are Wednesday and Thursday March 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday March 23, and 24 at 8 p.m
The theatre is located at 10th and Walnut streets in Reading.  Genesius has free parking next to the theater, just off 10th Street and is handicap accessible. 
The show was almost sold out its first weekend, so call for reservations.
For tickets and more information visit the Genesius website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call the Genesius Reservation Hot-Line at 610-373-9500 for tickets with a credit card or 610-371-8151 for non credit card reservations or for questions or show times.  Tickets are also available at Online at Tix.com


 

Monday, March 12, 2012

'Side Man’ adds a special element to Berks Jazz Fest




  Shoestring Productions in association with Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest and Building 24 will present “Side Man” March 16 through 25. 
  The play by Warren Leight, won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Play. It is a tender and emotional memory play about the upheaval in the family of a jazz musician at the dawn of the age of Rock-and-Roll.  
  Performances are March 16, 17, and March 23 at 7 p.m.; March 18 and March 25 at 3 p.m. The doors open 2 hours prior to each performance for dining and drinking. A jazz quintet, The Ken Blekicki Five, will play one hour prior to performance.
   Side Manis a cinematic play, moving fluidly between 1953 and 1985. The life of jazz musician Gene Glimmer and his wife Terry is revealed to us through the eyes of their son, Clifford. As Gene and his fellow jazz sidemen hang blindly to a musical time threated with extinction by the advent of the age of Rock and Roll, Clifford struggles to keep his family together, both emotionally and financially. Clifford narrates the tale not only of the breakdown of a family, but also the end of a musical era, as with the appearance of Elvis and Rock-and-Roll, the jazz greats are brushed aside and forgotten. This story is Clifford’s homage to, and condemnation of, a bygone era; with its telling, Clifford is at last able to escape his past, and to live his own riff on life.
   “Side Manfeatures Dallas Mugno as Clifford, Richard Bradbury as Gene, and Tama McConnell as Terry. The rest of the ensemble includes Michael Harbach (Ziggy), Daniel Smith (Jonesy), Jamie Howard (Al), and Kathy Newville (Patsy).
  The show is directed by Kirk Lawrence, with John Gancar serving as assistant director and stage manager. Ken Blekicki is music consultant.
   “Side Man” will be presented at Building 24 Kitchen and Bar, which will be transformed into a jazz club with table and chair seating. A jazz quintet, The Ken Blekicki Five, will play 45 minutes prior to the show. Drinks will be available from the lounge bar. Dining is available in the Building 24 or The Works restaurant. Please visit www.berksjazzfest.com for more information.
   Tickets are $25. Seating is unreserved.
 For tickets, visit the tickets page at berksjazzfest.com. Tickets are also available by phone – 610-777-2310  or in person at CD Exchange, 360 E. Wyomissing Ave., Mohnton, Pa. CD Exchange is open Tuesday through Saturday during regular business hours.
 Building 24 is located at 1115 Bern Rd. in Wyomissing, next to The Works. 

   The production is rated PG-13 for  strong language and adult situations.


‘Toys in the Attic’ is an up-close look into dark family dynamics



Leena Devlin, Deborah Stimson-Snow and Andrea Frassoni
By Cheryl Thornburg
  There is nothing playful about Lillian Hellman’s “Toys in the Attic,” the current production at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center. It is a dark family drama filled with complex, eccentric characters and long-buried secrets.
John Jerbasi and Elise D'Avella
   The title refers to a southern term for crazy.  Think “bats in the belfry” or “having a screw loose.” There are quite a few characters in this show with a screw loose, which makes it an actor’s dream – and challenge.
  At the heart of this family are two spinster sisters, Carrie and Anna Berniers who have set aside their own lives and dreams to repeatedly bail out their younger brother, Julian, whose gambling and grand schemes always seem to turn out badly. When he unexpectedly returns home to New Orleans with his fragile, childlike bride, Lily, events are set in motion that will change many lives forever.
  The older, practical sister, Anna, who tries to hold the family together, is played by Leena Devlin with a sincerity that makes the long-suffering Anna sympathetic to the audience.
   Andrea Frassoni plays Carrie, the more ethereal of the sisters, who plays the piano, speaks French and talks of traveling to Europe.  Underlying her gentile demeanor is a selfish, manipulative woman who does what it takes to get what she wants. Frassoni gives a masterful performance, gradually exposing her underlying motivations and delivering a chilling performance in the final act.
Elise 'D'Avella, Deborah Stimson-Snow and Lee Leagiton
    The rakish Julian is played with flair by John Jerbasi.  His Julian is exuberant and charming as he returns home with lots of money and presents to celebrate a mysterious success.
  His flamboyant style is the perfect contrast to Elise D’Avella as his meek, neurotic and insecure wife, Lily.  D’Avella’s Lily is so pale and frail, she seems about to fall apart whenever Julian is not there to reassure her.
   Her insecurity and paranoia are especially obvious in her scenes with her mother, the wealthy Albertine Prine, played to cool perfection by Deborah Stimson-Snow.  Their relationship is strained, at best, and the interaction between the two creates a palpable tension.
Lee Leagiton and Deborah Stimson-Snow
   In addition to the family drama, there are overtones and references to racism throughout the play.  The prim and proper Albertine is in a long-term relationship with a black man that she attempts to hide publicly by referring to him as a chauffer, but no one is fooled.
  Henry, her paramour, is played by Lee Leagiton. His Henry is compassionate and dignified as he seems to understand the relationships better than those directly involved.
   Rounding out the cast as various delivery men are Jabbar Wright, Philip Seader and Carl Durr.
   Director Neal Newman has staged this production in-the-round, giving the uncanny sense of eavesdropping on the very private actions and conversations of those involved. It is a major challenge for the actors and they more than meet that challenge, creating uncomfortable situations and complicated relationships that are compelling to watch.

  “Toys in the Attic” runs through March 25 at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, 245 E. High St, in Pottstown. Performances run Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.  Tickets range from $13 to $21 and may be purchased at www.tripac.org or at the door the night of the show if available.  There are discounts for groups of 10 or more.  Check the website, or call the theater at 610-970-1199 for more information.

  PARENTAL GUIDANCE IS SUGGESTED FOR THIS SHOW.

Photos by John Daggett

Monday, March 5, 2012

FCT’s ‘Oscar & Felix’ as hilarious as ever


By Cheryl Thornburg

   Neil Simon’s ‘Odd Couple’ may be 40 years old, but the humor and relationships still resonate today as proven by Fleetwood Community Theatre’s current production, “Oscar & Felix.” This updated version brings the technology up-to-date with cell phones and laptops, while keeping the essence of Simon’s classic comedy intact.  Oscar is still a loveable slob, and Felix, loveable in his own way, is still a compulsive neatnik.
   The story will be familiar to many from its various incarnations, from the 1965 play to the 1968 movie, to the 1970’s TV show. It’s a laugh-out-loud experience worth the trip to Fleetwood.
   Stan Durlak brings neuroticism to new heights as the hyper-neat Felix Unger whose wife has just kicked him to the curb. He is the perfect foil to Lance Thomas as the laid-back, slovenly sports writer, Oscar Madison, who has taken him in. Many of us have known an Oscar at some point in our lives, and Thomas delivers Simon’s zingers with a nonchalance that makes him truly believable.  For example, in reference to a note Felix left for Oscar, Thomas declares “It took me two hours to figure out that F.U. stood for Felix Unger.”
   Durlak and Thomas have great chemistry as they bounce Simon’s delightful dialogue back and forth. This pairing with a seasoned FCT veteran, Durlak, and relative newcomer, Thomas, is the key to the success of this play and it works really well.
   Backing up this dynamic duo are some familiar faces as well as more newcomers.
Oscar’s poker buddies include Patrick McCafferty as Speed, Jeremiah Hershelroth as Murry, a New York City cop), Chris Jameson as Roy, Oscar’s accountant, and Bob Barskey as Vinnie, who always seems to have an appointment to get to.  The poker game gets off to a slow start, but when the guys realize Felix is missing, they pull together to help their friend – and the result is hilarious.
   The laughter continues in the second act when Danelle Wagner and Melissa Kopicz take the stage as Ynez and Julia, two Spanish sisters who work for Air Iberia. They deliver Simon’s now classic dialogue filled with misunderstandings and double entendre with just the right combination of spice and innocence.
   The show is directed by Tara Sands, with Brian Miller as production manager, Ken Dreistadt as stage manager and costumes by Jenni Juntunen.
   FCT added something new this year, dinner performances. Saturday performances will start with a hot buffet dinner at 6 p.m.  Seats for the dinner show are $30 per person and must be reserved by calling 610-944-3610. All seats for Friday and Sunday are $13 available at the door or by calling ahead.  This show is not recommended for young children because of mature conversations.
  Remaining performances are Friday March 9 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday March 10, a dinner show at 6 p.m. (curtain at 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday March 11 at 3 p.m. Performances are at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 5 West Arch St. in Fleetwood, Pa. 19522

   Fleetwood Community Theatre (FCT) was founded in 1988 by local residents who loved the theatre. Their plan was to teach others about loving the theatre.  FCT is A Not-for-profit 501(c)(3) volunteer organization of theatre lovers currently in our 24th season. It is committed to the education and development of our membership within the theatre arts program by offering opportunities to all ages both on-stage and behind the scenes. It strives to be an outlet of quality musical, dramatic and ensemble productions. FCT encouraging & supporting local youth to pursue performing arts opportunities through school, church, collegiate or other local productions.