“Sister Act” at the Fox Belts to the Rafters

April 24th, 2013

There’s nothing like a gospel-fueled, ’70s-parody musical to get your spirits up during a rough time.

I mean, I’d never seen one of those until last night, but I imagine the effect is the same across the board.

Sister Act is playing at the Fox, and it’s a rockin’ and rollin’ good time. After a log couple of weeks at work, I really needed a night with a girlfriend, a martini in a plastic glass, and little spin on Whoopie’s famous character to lift my spirits.

Does Sister Act have its cringe-worthy moments? Sure. Is it 100% true to the movie? Not so much. But it’s, overall, a fun-for-the-family romp with catchy songs, some incredible belters, and really fabulous costumes.

The plot is as you may remember from the movie: a take-no-shit black diva witnesses a heinous crime, hides out in a convent, and subsequently wins the hearts, minds, and pipes of all the culture-shocked sisters. When diva Dolores gets the convent to “raise their voices” to heaven, you can feel the Fox’s rafters shake form the power emanating from the cast. The show has a solid middle section full of intrigue, hilarity, and incredible music, but the beginning and end get slightly disjointed and fall flat. No matter – you still leave feeling overjoyed and impressed.

It’s a show worth seeing. It taps “Book of Mormon”’s religious chiding without being offensive, it borrows from “Legally Blonde”’s sense of humor without being obnoxious, it winks at ’70s cheese without using it as a plot prop, and it propels itself on gospel music’s roots without dishonoring it. It’s a show trying to balance a lot of things, to overall success. And it really does make you want to “raise your voice.”

Sister Act plays at the Fox through the 28th. Tickets start at $30.

“What I Learned in Paris” at the Alliance

October 2nd, 2012

We all know politics can be a dangerous game, but layer an already-rocky field of work with tumultuous racial relations, and you have a pretty interesting story on your hands.

Based in Atlanta in the early 1970s, “What I Learned in Paris” follows a married political couple, the weed-smoking/world-traveling ex-wife of the husband, and a couple of the staff involved in a successful campaign to elect Atlanta’s first black mayor. A comedy of romantic errors ensues as the audience quickly discovers there’s an elicit romantic relationship happening behind the scenes, but whether it blossoms depends on how willing the woman is to reject the call of her heritage to help her husband become a black political leader. She is torn between true love and, she believes, carrying the burden of her entire race on her shoulders.

The heavy subject matter doesn’t weigh the show down. Playwright Pearl Cleage weaves an intricate backdrop of an evolving but still oppressive time period against a story doubling over with laughs and ’70s references (“Monogamy is dead!” “Excuse me while I meditate.”). What is cause for deep discussion post-show is also carried lightly and playfully through the evening, striking a great balance between politics and laughter. (Never thought I’d include those two words in the same sentence!)

With a super talented cast and lots of Atlanta references, “What I Learned In Paris” makes for a good date night or just an evening out with the girls, especially if you all hail from different areas of the city. The references to Buckhead, VaHi, Krispy Kreme, and a host of other Atlanta-centric things really make the lovey-dovey feelings for our fair city well up inside.

And I must, of course, call out the incredible hair and costuming so befitting of the period: afros, mustaches, headbands, drape-y jumpsuits with belts, and more – all somehow fitting the setting without seeming campy.

Kudos to the Alliance on another great show – check it out through 10/6!

War Horse at the Fox

September 27th, 2012

I’ve never been a horse person, yet somehow I’ve managed to find myself at an unreasonable number of equine performances.

It started with my disturbing desire to see “Equus” on Broadway, partially in an effort to catch a glimpse of Harry Potter’s peen (curse me), but, perhaps more disturbingly, an attraction to seeing a play about a boy with a sexual obsession with horses. It was just too weird-sounding not to check out. I “rushed” it with a friend and have no regrets. Sure, there were horses involved–not my thing–but Radcliffe’s performance was just outstanding.

Follow that up with a stint doing PR for Cavalia, during which I saw both the Atlanta performance and some sort of press event, and I was kind of horse’d out. I’m sure it would have been much more impressive to see horses walking backward and people doing flips on top of them if I’d known anything about the animals, but it just wasn’t for me.

Cut to “War Horse” at the Fox, which opened Tuesday night. I kicked myself for once again attending some equestrian event, and I had horror flashbacks to the 5 press releases I had written for Cavalia, with exceptional headlines varying from:

Equestrian Horse Odyssey Gallops Into Atlanta

Journey of Equine Proportions Extends Its Run

No Horsin’ Around: Atlanta Extends Cavalia’s Run a Second Time

Okay, I just made all of those up, but that was the gist of the headlines.

I had heard rumors of the crazy-amazing puppetry of “War Horse,” but let’s face it: there are fewer “puppet enthusiasts” out there than there are horse people, and I don’t fall into that category. Couple that with war, which, as you may recall from my insane post about “HAIR” a few months ago, I’m no fan of.

Needless to say, I came in with low expectations. But I was blown away.

“War Horse” tells the story of a boy, his horse, and their unwavering dedication to be together at all costs, in a setting that captures the horrors of war. The story is beautiful and moving, but the puppetry is the most incredible part of the experience of the play. It’s worth the cost of a ticket just to see how actors are able to transform themselves so thoroughly into horses, and how quickly the puppeteers fade into the animals in the story. People gawked and gaped at “The Lion King”’s puppetry, but after having seen both, I can vouch that “War Horse” easily out-puppets the other.

I never expected tears to well up and an entire audience to audibly gasp when metal horse structures writhed on stage in agony, but it happened. That’s how enraptured you get.

“War Horse” is a long play, but despite its deep subject matter, it moves quickly. If there’s one play to see in Atlanta this season, “War Horse” should be it. It’s a classic and emotional story, draped in the most incredible costuming imaginable. Well worth the price of admission.

“War Horse” runs through September 30 at The Fox.

Jersey Boys at the Fox

May 30th, 2012

“I didn’t realize these Frankie Valli people were all a bunch of gangsters,” my friend Allison said on Friday night, echoing my thoughts exactly.

Maybe we’d been living under a rock all our lives, or we were just born past the time of knowing that a real-life Joe Pesci (literally) introduced the fourth member of the Four Seasons to what was then a trio, but boy, did we feel stupid.

Looking around the audience, it was easy to see why we didn’t quite remember the story of the origin and ultimate disbandment of The Four Seasons the way everyone else did: we weren’t alive then, and the rest of the audience had been. I like to think, though, that coming in blind made us enjoy the experience that much more.

The winner of multiple Tony Awards (including Best Musical 2006), Jersey Boys has been seen worldwide by approximately 13 million people. It’s no wonder it’s a hit: far from a standard jukebox musical, Jersey Boys brings a real plot to the table – one in which older audience members feel personally invested, and in which younger audience members feel emotionally invested.

But it’s really the music that gets you.

Continuing our exploration into naivette, Allison and I commented to each other, “I had no idea all those songs were from The Four Seasons.”

“Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “December 1963 (Oh What A Night),” and so many more – the hits just keep rolling, and you’re constantly surprised to find that yes, indeed, even THAT one was a Four Seasons tune. It’s hard not to clap your hands and sing along to the tunes you didn’t even know you knew (although, please don’t – that’s way freaking annoying), and you really leave ready to go home, blast some oldies, and Wikipedia Joe Pesci… because, I mean, who knew?

If you haven’t seen this incredible show yet, Atlanta, now is your chance to get your hot patooties to the Fox before the show leaves on June 10th. Learn more at JerseyBoysInfo.com/Tour, and tell ‘em I sent ya!

Awesome Evening at the “New” Village Theatre

March 16th, 2012

Improv is freakin’ awesome. Let’s just put that out there right now.

It’s unscripted, usually hilarious, inexpensive entertainment that’s often accompanied by a cold PBR (stay classy, folks), a comfy theater, and great friends. It just doesn’t get much better.

In its prior incarnation, however, Atlanta’s Village Theatre was lacking two of those things. Due to no fault other than being in its infancy, VT was (apparently) holed away in a dank building in a somewhat shady neighborhood, with up-and-coming comedians toiling away to spread the joy of improv, with nary a spare dollar to to the theatre’s name, nor the elusive liquor license. No bueno.

Fast-forward to this month, when Village Theatre encountered a rebirth–much in the same way a full re-enactment of the birth process occurred onstage last night. The theatre is now smack in the middle of some great restaurants, including a new location of American Roadhouse, spitting distance from MLK MARTA station (but well-lit enough to stumble to and from while tipsy), at the Pencil Factory building cluster downtown.

They have an open and welcoming lobby, fitted with a bar and that oh-so-enviable liquor license. The tallboy PBRs are a reasonable 3 bucks, and the owners are on hand to offer a handshake or kind hello. A great intro to the new digs.

But the real star is the incredible space they’ve now got for the theatre itself. An un-intimidating black box makes a tidy, curtain-less stage, and cushioned folding chairs are raked up toward the sound booth. The area is both casual–encouraging the all-important audience-give-and-take–and sophisticated for a somewhat-startup theatre group. I was awed by the truly impressive sound system they’ve rigged up, especially after I was half-expecting to come in to a boom box hooked to a microphone, as you’d get at a regular little improv theatre. All in all, VT has done an incredible job in giving Dad’s Garage a run for its money as a heavy improv contender in Atlanta. Not an easy task.

The show itself was, of course, an incredible complement to the new space. The talented cast of up-and-comers (including–full disclosure–among others, my friend’s hilarious boyfriend and, incidentally, my former college newspaper editor) kicked out the jams all night long. They rocked long-form improv in the first act and short-form, drinking-fueled hilarity in the second act (“Asshole”).

All the performers were standouts in their own way, but none particularly shone as brightly as a drunken girl in the audience named Mary, who would. not. shut. up. And you know, people who never shut up also, annoyingly, never have anything interesting to say. (Example – Host: “What style should they do this scene in?” Mary: “Load the fucking dishes!”) So as all professional comedy actors do, the effervescent host took to making fun of Mary. And somehow, he did it in a way that made both her and the rest of us feel good about it. Like, I don’t think she woke up with a hangover this morning thinking, “Why the hell was I breathing Lamaze noises into a microphone last night?” Not bad, host man, not bad.

You’re going to love the new Village Theatre, whether it’s your first time ever seeing improv (pop that damn cherry already) or the VT cast basically knows you already and runs from you in the parking lot (calm it down, Mary). They have shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights starting at 8:30, and the official grand opening is next weekend. Tell ‘em Atlanta Onstage sent ya.

The Village Theatre

http://www.villagecomedy.com/

349 Decatur St, Suite L

Atlanta, GA 30312

Tickets range from $5-$10 depending on the night.

Billy Elliot at The Fox

March 14th, 2012

It’s rare that you leave a show both defeated and inspired, but for some reason, you come away with both those feelings after Billy Elliot. Defeated because you will never hold as much talent in even your pinkie-toe as the 11-year-old boy you saw onstage; inspired because despite all odds, you think you should try to, anyway.

J.P. Viernes as Billy Elliot. Photo by Joan Marcus.

With just as much flare, sparkle, and magic as the Broadway smash had in New York, the touring version did not disappoint. Billy (played masterfully by J.P. Viernes last night, one of several Billys in a rotating cast of kids) hit every pirouette and tap as the Broadway Billys, sang well, and affected a ridiculously good Northern English accent. He hit all the right marks of comedic timing- coupled, of course, with an incredible cast including the always-loved ballerina girls and the effervescent, renowned Leah Hocking as Mrs. Wilkinson.

Leah Hocking as Mrs. Wilkinson, with her ballerinas. Photo by Kyle Froman.

Billy Elliot the Musical, for those who aren’t familiar, is the story of a young boy living in an English village mining town during the strikes of the 1980s. Through whimsy and circumstance, he finds himself enrolled in a ballet class, where it is discovered that he has an unbelievable natural talent for dance. Will his stressed-out father support his unique passion? Will he get to audition for a real ballet school in London, allowing him the opportunity to escape a future as a miner? Or, out of familial obligation and for the memory of his mother, should he follow in his father’s footsteps and stay working-class?

The lighthearted show has the dark political overtones of the Margaret Thatcher regime, introducing a British history many theatergoers may not have known, and reminding still others of the class warfare that’s happening even today in the United States. Billy Elliot is as relevant for its view into a slice of political history as it is for its inspirational message, but it is the latter that resounds with you as you dance your way out of the theater.

Although Billy Elliot isn’t a show for kids (some cursing of all varieties, a few gay slurs, etc.), it’s a show that makes everyone feel like a kid again. You’ll leave with dreams leaping in front of you, a heart filled with boundless energy and opportunities, and feet dancing beneath you.

And an ending note from an annoyed blogger: As energized as you’ll be, please spend your effort clapping for the stellar cast and the amazing performance they give – far too many people last night were ridiculously rude in leaving before the curtain call. It’s called respect, folks.

Check out Billy Elliot at the Fox through March 18, 2012. It’s a can’t-miss!

Stage-to-Screen Review: “Carnage” v. God of Carnage

January 30th, 2012

I checked out the new movie “Carnage” a couple of weeks ago at Midtown Arts Cinema, and I thought I’d post a little mini-review since the movie is based on a hit Broadway play. The show is also currently playing at the Alliance Theatre.

God of Carnage is a show that takes place in one room, a couple’s apartment, after their son is beaten up on the playground at school by another little boy. The offender’s parents come over to talk things out civilly, and what ends up resulting is, essentially “carnage.” When people defend their parenting skills, life choices, marriages, and careers–especially with alcohol accompanying the evening–observers get to see what savages we all really are.

The translation of God of Carnage to the big screen was a  bit clunky, although true to the stage play. Basically having the action taking place within one room (carried over from the show) made for an awkward and slightly slow movie, but the acting was undeniably amazing. Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christopher Waltz all gave top-notch performances, which would have all been worthy of their own Tonys had they been live onstage. Winslet’s teary, drunken Nancy was a wreck of emotion throughout the second half of the movie, really gripping the audience with  her clear, tortured pain while still bringing in a level of hilarity in her frequent, disgusting stress-vomiting.

Throughout the movie, there are prized possessions broken and stained, tears pouring, alcohol flowing, words being screamed, alliances being made and broken, and children being made illustrations of marriages gone wrong. All in all, this movie wasn’t really a movie so much as a live recording of the stage play, done in the style of a film. Having it recorded for many more audiences to see will allow thousands more people to experience the show than got to see it onstage, but those interested in a skillfully-made independent movie may wind up confused and bored. Worth a trip for theatre buffs, but cineophiles should perhaps wait for the next indie flick.

The Sun Comes Out: Annie at the Fox Theatre

January 15th, 2012

As you grow up, you begin to worry that you’re losing some of your childhood sense of wonder and the ability to find things endearing. We develop a sense of cynicism about the world and our lives begin to get entrenched by the burdens of the everyday.

Seeing Annie last night at the Fox reminded me that I still have the optimism I thought I’d lost.

Annie at the Fox Theatre

Take a gaggle of adorable little girls playing orphans (you almost can’t suppress your “awwws”), an immensely talented lead playing the title character of Annie (Mary Peeples), and a couple of known actors putting new spins on Daddy Warbucks (Broadway’s Brad Oscar) and Miss Hannigan (Sally Struthers), and you have a recipe for a fun evening. Seeing the movie Annie so many times as a kid led me to wonder if I’d be jaded to the blind optimism as an adult (really? FDR singing, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”?) but it just wasn’t the case. You have to feel the love when you see this show.

The real test of Annie’s success was that I brought my husband to see it for the first time – he’d never even seen the film. On the way, he whined about having to sit around hoards of little girls (Miss Hannigan moment, anyone?), seeing a show meant for children, and musical theatre in general. But at the end of the night, he was asking about the historical context of Annie and laughing about all the depression-area references thrown in. He’d clearly enjoyed himself.

It’s totally worth a trip to the Fox this week to check out this well-executed, classic, Theater of the Stars production. If you’ve got a little girl, this is a can’t-miss… and even if you don’t, you’ll have your cold, January-influenced heart warmed.

Annie plays at the Fox through 1/22/12.

THE NATIONAL TOURING COMPANY OF WICKED TO HOST A CABARET PERFORMANCE

September 1st, 2011

Check it out! This is a wonderful cause and should be a fun event. Awesome way to give back and enjoy a little musical theat-ah.

“Our Wicked, Wicked Ways”

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, at 7:30pm

14th Street Playhouse – 173 14th Street, Atlanta, GA 30309

To benefit Joining Hearts and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

On Monday, September 26, the National Touring Company of WICKED will host Our Wicked, Wicked Ways, an evening of cabaret performances.  Held at the 14th Street Playhouse, 173 14th Street in Atlanta, the event will feature cast and crew members of the traveling company.  The net proceeds of this event will benefit JOINING HEARTS and BROADWAY CARES/EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS.

Produced by Kevin Ireland, founder of theBestArts.com and Kevin Beebee, Associate Company Manager for WICKED, the evening is an opportunity for company members to step out of their roles in the musical in music, dance and comedy; and will feature company members including Justin Brill (Boq), Mark Jacoby (The Wizard), Stefanie Brown (Nessarose) and Mariand Torres (Elphaba Standby), as well as members of the ensemble and touring staff.  In addition, there will be a silent auction of items including WICKED memorabilia used in actual performances, and a live auction of several opportunities to join the company backstage at The Fox Theatre, including a chance to bid on a walk-on role to be inWICKED.

Admission to Our Wicked, Wicked Ways is by donation.  Tickets are available online atwww.thebestarts.com/wickedbenefit, and at the door.  General Admission is $35.  VIP tickets, which include a 6:30pm pre-show reception hosted by Amanda Jane Cooper (Glinda), Dee Roscioli (Elphaba) and Colin Hanlon (Fiyero), are available for $75.  All proceeds benefit Joining Hearts & BC/EFA and donations are tax-deductible.  Silent auction items and a cash bar will be available before and after the show.  While all are welcome, the evening is intended for mature audiences of 18 and older and parental discretion is advised.

Our Wicked, Wicked Ways is part of an ongoing series of performances by the touring company throughout the country to support charitable causes which advance WICKED’s theme of acceptance and illuminate the musical’s message that people should not be judged on first impressions alone.  The company believes that in these divisive times we must come together to support those in need throughout the country and around the world.  In its 6 years on the road, the company has raised over $2,000,000 in donations for BROADWAY CARES/EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS and local AIDS Services organizations all over the country.

WICKED:  Tickets to the Atlanta engagement of WICKED, playing The Fox Theatre from September 14-October 9, are available at the Fox Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-982-2787.

theBestArts: Since 2007, theBestArts has strived to provide more visibility to rising musical theatre singers, dancers and songwriters through our website, facebook page, college showcase concerts in New York City and Broadway Tour benefits in Atlanta. www.facebook.com/theBestArts and www.theBestArts.com

BENEFICIARIES

Joining Hearts, Inc., is a 501(c)(3), all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing support to people living with HIV and AIDS in Atlanta. 100% of every dollar raised through ticket sales is donated to their 501(c)(3) beneficiaries, AID Atlanta and Jerusalem House. Since 1987, Joining Hearts has raised over $1.15M for these two worthy organizations – with no administrative costs.

AID Atlanta, Inc. has been saving and transforming lives since its inception in 1982. The agency was founded as a “grass-roots” response to the devastating and fatal impact HIV/AIDS was having on the Atlanta community. The mission of AID Atlanta is to reduce new HIV infections and improve the quality of life of its members and the community by breaking barriers and building community.  Services are provided to those most at risk and most in need including specific at-risk populations, those who are under- or uninsured, and those living very near or below the poverty level. www.aidatlanta.org

Jerusalem House is Atlanta’s oldest and largest provider of permanent supportive housing designated for homeless and low-income individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Atlanta has more homeless children than any city in the U.S.; on any given day, almost 40% of JH residents are children. Jerusalem House provides over 62% of the permanent supportive housing designated for Atlanta’s homeless and low-income population with HIV/AIDS.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) is the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fund raising and grant making organization.  BC/EFA is the on-going, committed response from the American theater community to an urgent worldwide health crisis. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of this community, BC/EFA raises funds for AIDS-related causes across the United States. Since its founding in 1988, BC/EFA has raised over $150 million for critically needed services for people with AIDS, HIV, and other serious illnesses.  www.broadwaycares.org

Special Thanks to GFour Productions and Motherhood the Musical for allowing the use of the 14th Street Playhouse for this event.  For more information regarding Motherhood the Musical, please visit www.14thstplayhouse.org

On With the Show Playlist 8.20.11

August 20th, 2011

Touch Me – Spring Awakening

Grease – Grease

Come Down Now – Passing Strange

Take Me or Leave Me – Rent

Out Tonight – Rent

Purpose – Avenue Q

BREAK

21 Guns – American Idiot

Overture – The Rocky Horror Show revival cast

Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind – Spring Awakening

Those You’ve Known – Spring Awakening

If you Were Gay – Avenue Q

Superboy and the Invisible Girl – Next to Normal

BREAK

There’s No Business Like Show Business – Annie Get Your Gun

If I Didn’t Believe In You – The Last 5 Years

Boulevard of Broken Dreams – American Idiot

Floor Show/Rose Tint My World – The Rocky Horror Show

BREAK

Johnny Can’t Decide – tick…tick…BOOM!

The Ballad of Booth – Assassins

Heart and Music – A New Brain

Suddenly Seymour – Little Shop of Horrors

A Light in the Dark – Next to Normal

BREAK

The Dark I Know Well – Spring Awakening

My Strongest Suit – Aida

Pity the Child – Chess

BREAK

The Song of Purple Summer – Spring Awakening

Still Hurting – The Last 5 Years

When You’re Good to Mama – Chicago

Love Like That – Passing Strange

Let the Sunshine In (Curtain Call) – HAIR

The Bitch of Living – Spring Awakening

I Know the Truth – Aida

Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise) – Spring Awakening

BREAK

Rent – Rent

My Junk – Spring Awakening

Hello! – The Book of Mormon

Live in Living Color – Catch Me If You Can

You and Me (But Mostly Me) – The Book of Mormon

We Just Had Sex – Passing Strange

Alone in the Universe – Seussical the Musical

I Am the One – Next to Normal

Black Boys – HAIR

Wicked Little Town (Reprise) – Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I’d Give It All for You – Songs for a New World

Baptist Fashion Show – Passing Strange

Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling – Next to Normal

Sweet Transvestite – The Rocky Horror Show

BREAK

Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You – The Last Five Years

I Want the Good Times Back – The Little Mermaid

Defying Gravity – Wicked

Tear Jerks – I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

Pandamonium – Spelling Bee

Put On a Happy Face – Bye Bye Birdie

Benjamin Calypso – Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

30/90 – tick…tick…BOOM!

I’m Alive – Next to Normal

Wig in a Box – Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I’ve Been – Next to Normal

Work the Wound – Passing Strange

Cue Music – Passing Strange