Thursday, March 30, 2006

Back By Popular Demand

It’s an all-to-often overlooked fact that composer Giacomo Puccini based two of his most successful operas, Madama Butterfly and La Fanciulla del West, on plays by David Belasco. Often called The Bishop of Broadway, Belasco - a playwright, stage manager, actor, producer, director and all-around impresario – was a notable force in the New York theater world around the turn and the early decades of the 20th century. And while he was a prolific (and popular) playwright in his day – notably The Girl I Left Behind Me, Hearts of Oak and Zaza – nearly all of his work is overlooked by 21st century dramaturgy.

If an artistic genius the magnitude of Puccini was able find enduring merit in the vernacular of Belasco, perhaps we all might be well served to read a play of two of his.

Can’t you just see it up in lights now?

The Guthrie Theater (or the Goodman, or the Seattle Rep, or Arena Stage, or La Jolla Playhouse, or ...)
Lord Chumley
(back by popular demand)

- P. B.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble

I was designing this week's e-Center newsletter and trying to find some interesting information on Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. I thought it was just this weird world music dance performance, but it looks like it will be so much more than that. I found the Nrityagram website and found myself browsing the entire site -- something I rarely do. It was captivating. That dance and holistic living is such an integral part of the dancers' lives astonished me. Nrityagram isn't just a dance ensemble, it is a community.

- Leeann D.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Got Goat?

The Jobsite Theater, TBPAC's resident theater company in the Shimberg Playhouse, enjoyed a great opening weekend for Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? (For the sake of disclosure I am also the Artistic Director for the company.)

Local professional actors under the direction of TBPAC's own Karla Hartley played to 91% of capacity audiences - including two sold-out shows. That represents the best opening weekend so far for the 2005 - 2006 Play Series. The show runs through April 9.

The first review of the show printed Sunday in The Tampa Tribune. Here's a snippet, or follow the link for the full version.

"Compelling, crazy, sometimes brilliant.... The combination of an outrageous premise and its authentic, heart-rending aftermath creates a strange, often exhilarating tension between laughter and pathos." — The Tampa Tribune

EDIT: Weekly Planet's review was also quite good - 4.5 Planets.
"... a superb production ... the most provocative American play of the last quarter century ... See this fine play and you'll not only be entertained, you'll be challenged to remember -- and examine -- your deepest beliefs." - Weekly Planet

- David J.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Since when did they speak Italian in California?

I don’t profess to know everything about opera, but I do consider myself somewhat knowledgeable on the subject. A little over a year ago, when we decided to produce The Girl of the Golden West (a.k.a. La fanciulla del West) as part of the 05-06 Opera Tampa’s season, I had to raise and eyebrow. First off, it’s an opera I wasn’t familiar with. It’s a rarely performed Puccini piece about a mining town during the California gold rush and an opera Puccini himself considered his greatest work. But the more obvious reason for my puzzled expression ... "Puccini, an Italian who understood very little English, wrote an opera about America? Really?"

But perhaps the thought of an Italian writing an opera about America isn’t that strange. For example, Aida is an Italian opera set in Egypt and Madama Butterfly is an Italian opera set in Japan. Heck, Carmen takes place in Spain, but is sung in French.

In the past few days I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on some rehearsals and I must say, it’s really not that strange. Yes, there are guys with rifles in frontiersman clothing singing Italian in a saloon ... but the music, the drama, the artistic beauty and the spectacle we’ve all come to expect from grand opera is definitely there!

So, I say think outside the box, grab some whiskey and say "Grazie, Puccini!"

- Angela L.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Spam, coconuts and Guinness - an interesting recipe?

Ok, maybe that header is a little misleading ... this comes from a press release sent by the press agent for the blockbuster musical SPAMALOT, based on the cult favorite of high school and college aged guys and the gaming geeks they hang out with worldwide - Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"Monty Python's SPAMALOT celebrated their first anniversary on Broadway by setting the Guinness World Record for "World's Largest Coconut Orchestra" today when it was announced that 1,789 people had gathered in New York City's Shubert Alley to join in a special rendition of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.'

SPAMALOT cast members including Tony Award nominees Christopher Sieber and Michael McGrath "conducted" the crowd that braved the cold to participate.

Guinness World Record Official Stuart Claxton was on hand to certify the event and announced that the world record had been set."

"Directed by Mike Nichols, SPAMALOT features a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, based on the screenplay of Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Monty Python creators Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

SPAMALOT won three 2005 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and Best Director for Mike Nichols, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Musical Cast Album.

The National Tour recently opened to rave reviews and sold out houses in Boston. Other cities on the tour include Chicago, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston, Kansas City, and Toronto."

And hey, they'll be coming soon to Tampa. I wonder if they trebuchet that cow into the audience or hack up the Black Knight live on stage? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

- David J.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Burn, Baby Burn

Even for a science fiction novelist, Ray Bradbury was especially prescient.

His Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 detailed his fears of censorship and "enforced ignorance." (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns.)

Now, a play based on Bradbury's 1979 stage adaptation is set to open in NYC this week in a production by the Godlight Theater Company.

Bradbury told the company, as quoted in The New York Times Sunday, that the work was "more relevant than ever."

As noted in a posting last month about literary opening lines, the first line of the novel is gripping: "It was a pleasure to burn."

- Michael K

It's an opera. (Don't tell anyone.)

One challenge with opera is that the repertoire, while extensive, doesn't have any "new classics."

Even people who don't know opera probably have heard of the opera ABCs: Aida, La Boheme (and Madame Butterfly) and Carmen.

In Sunday's New York Times, a story detailed a slew of new operas either recent or scheduled for performances in the next year.

They may or may not become classics.

For the most part, they're familiar titles -- even if they're new operas:

Little Women. Dead Man Walking. Lysistratra. A Streetcar Named Desire.

Will it work? Who knows. Maybe more familiar material will bring opera back into the popular arts field, rather than the rarified air it's been breathing. That seems to be happening. More and more young people are discovering the joys of grand opera.

After all, what is opera except strong plots presented through brilliant costumes, extravagant sets and singing. Kind of sounds like musical theater, doesn't it.

Still, old fears die hard.

One opera company president had a novel idea about his company's 2003 opera based on Margaret Atwood's book, The Handmaid's Tale.

"Let's just say it's a theatricalization of {the novel}," he said. "Once you say it's an opera, people get scared."

- Michael K

Monday, March 20, 2006

06-07 Play Series subtitution

Jobsite Theater, TBPAC's resident theater company in the Shimberg Playhouse has announced a susbtitution to their 06-07 Play Series.

Originally slated to do Three Days of Rain, Jobsite has just acquired the rights to Neil Labute's (The Shape of Things, The Mercy Seat) newest release This Is How It Goes. Jobsite has been granted the southeastern US premiere of this work, as they also will have for Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman at the start of their season.

In This Is How It Goes Labute trains his eye on a small town in middle America for what is billed as a "new tale of manipulation, exploitation, race and infidelity," through "the story of an interracial love triangle." The original production was at New York's Public Theater in the spring of 2005 and starred Ben Stiller, Amanda Peet and Jeffrey Wright directed by George C. Wolfe. Wolfe and Wright were also a part of the premiere of Topdog/Underdog at the Public, which Jobsite closed in February.

- David J.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

How could you miss it?

This week the Capitol Steps are in town at The Center, supporting what I think is a really funny title for an album - Four More Years in the Bush Leagues. If you've never heard of the group, the premise is this: mix a bunch of former Washington congressional staffers, add parodies of famous songs with lyrics reflecting current events and shake.

These guys work on material every day, and if you visit the website often, they're pretty good about posting new stuff. The show they're touring right now already has Danish cartoon jokes and of course the four remaining liberal Supreme Court justices singing "Keep Us Alive" (to the tune of "Stayin' Alive").

But here we are in Florida - land of Our Fearless Leader's brother, dangling chads, Terri Schiavo, Elian Gonzalez etc ... and they let the whole show pass without one crack on Katherine Harris. How can that be? I could probably make up several on her make-up alone.

And just to be clear if you were interested in checking them out - they're not liberal or conservative, they're just sorta mean. Well, you know what I mean, they're not afraid to take a shot at anyone. Equal opportunity offenders as it were. I seem to clearly remember their song "Bubba and the Blue Dress" ("Devil in a Blue Dress").

I probably can't go on any more about the group or the show lest my own leanings come out any more than they may have already. I was just really surprised that they left so broad a target alone. Maybe next time ...

- David J.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Blown out by the Rock School

Last Sunday afternoon, I came up to work for a few minutes after being out of town for the week. My first sights of the TBPAC campus made me question if I was in the right spot or not - the lawn facing the river was covered with approximately 400 people in folding butterfly chairs, on blankets, walking small leashed dogs and sitting in the grass. Boats had dropped anchor in the Hillsborough River and a stage was erected on the Riverwalk itself facing The Center. UT students returning from what looked to be various athletic practices mixed with parents and Rock School groupies and also patrons from the Little Women matinee behind the Blowout in Morsani Hall.

Seventeen bands played that day, all from the Patel Conservatory's Rock School classes. A co-worker rubbed it in that I'd just missed an 8-10 year-old belting out the AC/DC lyrics "lock up your girlfriends, lock up your wives" from their hit TNT, and another duo of rock-stars-in-the-making performing Soul Man a la the Blues Brothers - suits, shades, porkpie hats and all.

Conservatory Director of Administration Susan Alexander commented that the level of showmanship continues to come up with each and every Rock School Blowout, and even TBPAC Production Manager Mike Chamoun lamented that he needed to find a way to work the Blowout next time instead of the Broadway show playing in Morsani as it looked like Rock School was having all the real fun. I suggested to both that I believe pyrotechnics are in order for the next Blowout, which I hear will be in July. There's even talk of getting a tent or some other form of shade up - we'll certainly need it by then.

Slowly but surely, I think they're whittling away at my defenses and despite how busy a schedule I keep - Rock School is looking like more and more fun. Don't they say most actors want to be rock stars and most rock stars aspire to act? Well, I guess I just did if they don't. Hey, registration for the Summer Session is already under way ...

- David J.

Friday, March 10, 2006

We knew he had gained weight ...

... but now New Line Cinema has announced that John Travolta is going to play Edna Turnblad in the new movie version of "Hairspray."

The role was originated in the movie by the (late) transvestite actor Divine and reprised on the stage by that raspy-voiced scene stealer Harvey Fierstein, who won a Tony.

"Hairspray," of course started as a movie, became a hit Broadway musical in 2002, and now will be a movie again. While still going strong on in NYC and on the road (including a popular stop here in Tampa), it's also moving a production to Vegas to play in the casino theater recently vacated by "Avenue Q."

No word yet on whether Harvey is going to remake "Welcome Back, Kotter" in retaliation.

-Michael K.