Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Curio Theatre Company's "Romeo and Juliet"

Every theatre season brings with it new interpretations of Shakespeare’s timeless plays. Curio Theater Company got a head start on this year’s selections from the Bard with their season opener, Romeo and Juliet, casting two women as the star-crossed lovers. I caught the October 12th performance, the cast’s second official performance of their month-long run.

Director Krista Apple-Hodge changes little of the original text in this particular adaptation. Pronouns are changed to reflect the fact that Romeo and Tybalt are now women and much of Lord Capulet’s dialogue is given to Aetna Gallagher’s Lady Capulet. Curio’s dedication to keeping the original text in tact doesn’t always work for this particular production. It’s set in this not-quite-modern world where women lead their family’s violent gangs and no one questions or criticizes Romeo and Juliet’s same-sex marriage. The premise of the production requires the audience to take a pretty big leap of faith, and left me with a great deal of questions. It seems as though the production sought out to deal with issues of gender and sexuality that the original text was not cut out to address.

Despite the production’s shaky foundation, the performances are fantastic. Rachel Gluck and Isa St. Clair have great chemistry as Romeo and Juliet respectively. Eric Scotolati is particularly exceptional as the witty and wild Mercutio. The entire cast brings a youthful energy to the show often missing in Philadelphia theatre. They all work so well together, achieving Curio’s goal of creating great ensemble theatre.

Curio is housed in a turn-of-the-century American Protestant church in West Philadelphia, with beautiful stained-glass windows and high ceilings. It’s the perfect setting for this play, making the scenes in the church and tomb even more powerful.   The building, however, wasn’t quite built for theatre, and the acoustics of the space are a little wonky. The choices of music are often questionable, particularly when they try to mix Eric Whitacre’s haunting choral piece “Lux Aurumque” with house beats. The lighting and costumes are pretty basic, just doing what they need to do to tell the story.

Despite it’s faults, Curio’s Romeo and Juliet makes for a fun night at the theatre. It’s an interesting take on the story we all know so well, which is refreshing in a culture obsessed with this particular play. These young theatre artists have a lot to offer the Philadelphia theatre scene. If this production is any indication of their talents, I’m looking forward to what the folks at Curio will come up with next.

Romeo and Juliet runs through November 2nd at Curio Theatre Company, 4740 Baltimore Ave. Tickets are $20 with a valid student ID. For more information, visit curiotheatre.org

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

See This! PIFA 2013 Edition


Can we assume we’ll have an incarnation of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts every two years from here on out? Or is it too soon to tell with only two festivals on the books? Either way, brace yourselves, Philadelphians. PIFA is coming.

The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts is back after for its second biennial production, bringing with it a month chock full of music, theater, visual art, and special events. This year’s theme is Time Travel, which at first glance seems a bit odd for an arts festival. Each event portrays a specific event in history or the future and really shows how art can transport us to a different time and space if only for just a little while. I’m incredibly excited to see as many shows as I can fit into my tight schedule. For my own benefit as much as yours, I’ve compiled a list of some of the theater-related events I’m most excited for at PIFA 2013.

Flash of Time: A New Musical

This musical from up-and-coming musical theater writers Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk will receive its world premiere in the Kimmel’s lobby. The show makes use of the giant interactive time machine built specifically for the festival as well as puppetry, special effects and lots of awesome music. One of the songs from the show, “Flash of Time”, is now streaming on the PIFA website, and if this track is anything to go on this show is going to be super-fun. Best of all, admission is free, and with two shows a night there’s plenty of opportunities to check it out! Flash of Time runs Tuesday through Sunday at 7 PM and 10:30 PM from March 28 to April 27.

Vainglorious: The Epic Feats of Notable Persons in Europe After the Revolution – Applied Mechanics

With a 26-person cast of young local artists, Applied Mechanics tells the story of the rise of the Napoleonic Empire in Vainglorious. This is a truly immersive piece in which the audience can explore the set, witnessing private moments between actors. What I love about this style of theater is that each audience member’s experience is unique, and I think that this is a brilliantly ambitious approach to an important part of Western history. Vainglorious plays at the Christ Church Neighborhood House at 20 N. American Street. Student tickets are available for $10 at the box office.

Everyone and I – Azuka Theatre/The American Poetry Review

For their PIFA offering, Azuka partnered with the American Poetry Review to create a new play based on the poem “The Day Lady Died” by Frank O’Hara, penned to commemorate the death of legendary singer Billie Holiday. I’m a big fan of Billie, and I’m interested to see how this play will portray both artists. Everyone and I plays at the Hamilton Garden at the Kimmel Center from March 28 to April 7. Student tickets are available for $7 at the box office.

The Hand of Gaul – Inis Nua

Fulfilling their commitment to producing plays by Irish, British, Welsh and Scottish writers, Inis Nua presents a play about the aftermath of the handball that knocked Ireland of the 2010 World Cup tournament. Now, I’m a theatre person who doesn’t know a great deal about sports, but The Hand of Gaul’s promise of “international intrigue, a rare Belgian beer, and the world’s most popular sport” makes this a show I’ll definitely be checking out. Plus, I’ve got a soft spot for writers from Ireland and the UK. The Hand of Gaul runs from April 9 to April 28 at the First Baptist Church (1636 Sansom Street). Tickets are available for $20.

For more information on all of these events, check out pifa.org. Happy PIFA-ing! 

P.S. You can now follow Standing Room Only on Bloglovin! I've been using it to read my favorite blogs for a few weeks now and I'm seriously addicted. Check it out! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Once


If any musical currently running on Broadway exemplifies the changing state of musical theatre, it is Once. That may seem like an unexpected statement to make about a musical based on a movie, but bear with me here, dear blog readers. 

I didn’t have high expectations for the musical adaptation of Once when it was first announced. I fell in love with the heartfelt indie film a few years ago after Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008. As much as I love the glitz of Broadway musicals, I was afraid that it would squash the authenticity of the story about a heartbroken Irish songwriter and the Czech immigrant who inspires him to keep his music alive. Then it won a Tony for Best Musical. Then my theatre-nerd friends wouldn’t stop raving about it. Then I looked up some clips on YouTube. And then I put tickets to the show on my Christmas wish list.

Once was everything I could have wished for in an adaptation of the film I love so much. It was true to the film's plot and kept the same slightly melancholy tone while energizing the musical numbers. The indie spirit of the film was hardly lost on the stage.

This was one of the first Broadway shows I’ve seen to use an interactive pre-show set up, which is something I’ve grown to love in smaller productions. The set is pretty minimalist, with a bar acting as a street corner in Dublin, a cramped apartment and a recording studio. That bar wasn’t just for show (no pun intended), as drinks were served onstage before the show. As it got closer to curtain, the actors gathered around the remaining bar patrons/audience members on stage and performed a few folk tunes. The actors accompanied themselves with violins, guitars, melodicas and upright basses and continued to do so into the show. This is a trend in musical theatre - seen in the recent revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company - that I’ve been loving as it gives musical theatre more of a folk music storytelling element to the stage, bringing usually glitzy Broadway productions down to Earth.

Steve Kazee, Cristina Milioti and the whole cast give some really great performances.  Many of them come from a “straight acting” background rather than the world of musical theatre and have been seen in more plays than musicals. This really shows, since they act the crap out of each scene they’re in. I see Once as more of a play with music than a musical, and this approach to casting the show really worked. 

All that being said, I think that Once will work better in a smaller setting. It is such an intimate musical and some of those quieter emotional moments can get lost in a 1,000+ seat house. The actors all do a great job, but some points tend to fall flat when you’re up in the nosebleeds.

Regardless, if you’re in Manhattan any time soon, check out Once.  It’s definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen in New York in a long time.

Once is currently running at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 242 W. 45th St., New York, NY. Tickets start at $60. General Rush tickets are available in person at the box office for $34.50 Tuesday through Thursday and $39.50 Friday through Sunday (limit two per person). 


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Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Bring It On: The Musical


On a Friday night a few weeks ago I did something that I've never done before: I saw a Broadway musical...by myself. I've had plenty of experience going to the theatre on my own before, but the shows I've seen alone in the last few years have been smaller productions from regional companies or universities. Broadway is a different story. I'm accustomed to feeling at home with the groups of tourists when attending a show with my family, but though the audience of Bring It On: The Musical was mostly around my age, I did feel out of place as a more seasoned theatre patron attending the show alone. Nevertheless, Bring It On was so fun that I forgot how out of place I was and had a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

Image via my Instagram.
I've never seen the film of the same name that the musical was based on (I know, I don't deserve to call myself a Millenial), but from what I've read on Wikipedia and IMDb, the plots are not as similar as those of other musical adaptations of popular films. In this musical entry into the Bring it On canon, a bright young cheerleader named Campbell has it all: great friends, a great boyfriend and a spot on the top of the social food chain at Truman High School. To top it all off, she's just been voted the captain of the acclaimed Truman cheerleading squad. Weeks before school starts, Campbell receives a letter notifying her that she's been redistricted and must report to Jackson High School for her senior year. Jackson is on the "other side of the tracks" and Campbell is a little out of place among the metal detectors and grafitti-covered lockers. She decides to join the closest thing to a cheerleading squad that Jackson has: a dance crew. After some vetting, she’s accepted and convinces the crew to try out for the national cheerleading competition to get revenge on Eva, the sophomore who’s taken her place as queen bee and cheerleading captain at Truman.

Though the story is a little predictable, Bring It On really brings the fun with awesome cheerleading-inspired choreography. Many of the ensemble members have some kind of cheerleading background allowing them to toss their castmates so high they almost hit the stage lights and flip across the stage with ease. As it is a musical about cheerleading, the young cast brings the appropriate amount of energy to their performances. It definitely helps that Bring It On marks the Broadway debut of many members of the cast. The music is good, but a bit less memorable. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt’s score definitely shines on the more hip-hop influenced numbers, Miranda’s strong suit as seen in his Tony Award winning score for In The Heights. The first act spends a good deal of time building Campbell’s high school world and the rather expositioney writing wasn’t my favorite (to be fair, I’m picky). The writing picks up in the second act, however, adding lots of topical jokes about social media and pop culture (Doctor Who references! Nerds rejoice!). The timeliness of the writing does make me a bit concerned about the play’s future (and that of other musicals that take on a similar style), but that’s a discussion for another post.

Some standout performances include Ryann Redmond’s Bridget, a big girl who’s been relegated to mascot duty for years at Truman but really finds herself at Jackson. Redmond can really belt and she brings both humor and humility to the story. And the girl can rap! I hope to see this CAP 21 student in many more performances in New York and beyond. I also loved Elle McLemore’s portrayal of Eva, a sweet cheerleader with a bit of a vengeful side (when I say a vengeful side, I really mean that she turns into a blonde Gollum by the end of the show).

For another musical based on a popular film, I was pretty impressed with Bring It On. Though it might not sit on the shelf of the great American musicals, it was just a lot of lighthearted fun. And hey, if that’s the way Broadway’s going right now, I guess I can get behind it.

Bring It On: The Musical is currently running at the St. James Theatre at 246 W. 44th St., New York, NY through December 30. Tickets start at $39. General Rush tickets are available for $35 beginning when the box office opens (cash only, limit two per person). For more information, check out bringitonmusical.com

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Coming Soon...

Well, it seems to have been some time. I sincerely apologize for my absence from Standing Room Only. I won't bore you all with excuses and stories of where I've been for the past two (or however many) months, but just know that much of it is theater-related and it is all awesome. But right now, it's back to business. Sort of.

I have a bunch of great stuff planned for the next few weeks of Standing Room Only. I'll be here to help you make some sense of all the theater you're probably being bombarded with right now, or just to bombard you with some more. For example, I'm seeing a bunch of shows in the next two weeks, most of which I will be reviewing on here. Here's just a few of the shows I'm planning on seeing soon:

  • Bad Jews, Roundabout Theatre Company 
  • Pookie Goes Grenading, Azuka Theater
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Drexel Players
  • The Republican Theater Festival 
  • Satchmo at the Waldorf, The Wilma Theater
So yes, I'm sorry this post isn't more interesting, but I felt the need to get the "sorry I abandoned you for two months" stuff out of the way before I moved on to the good stuff. Watch this space, theater fans! 

Friday, August 31, 2012

The DOs and DON'Ts of Broadway on Broadway


The summer music festival season may have come and gone, but there's one free outdoor event left for us theatre fans to look forward to: the 20th Annual Broadway on Broadway Concert!

Broadway on Broadway is a free concert in Times Square to kick off the new Broadway season. This year’s concert takes place on September 9th at 11:30 AM and features performances from both new and long-running Broadway shows. Kathy Lee Gifford of daytime television fame will be hosting, hopefully with a glass of wine in hand.
My friend Amanda and I
at the 2008 concert. 

Sadly I will not be attending this year’s Broadway on Broadway concert, but that won’t stop me from dishing out some tips to make the most of your experience at the concert. I attended the 2008 concert and had a great time, but I learned that there are some definite "dos and don’ts" to consider when planning your day at the event.

DO consider the weather. The sun is still very strong in New York in early September, so make sure to wear sunscreen as you’ll be outside for a few hours. Check the weather before you go and make sure to bring an umbrella if the forecast calls for rain.

DON’T weigh yourself down. You’ll be standing in the middle of Times Square for a while, and it’s not a great idea to bring bags full of stuff. Besides, if you put your bags down on the street, there is a possibility that you’ll never see them again. Pack light and only bring the things you absolutely need.

Times Square / dusk
Photo Credit: George Rex
DO arrive early. If it’s a sunny day, pick a spot in the shade or close to the stage if you don’t mind the speakers. However, make sure you know how to get out of the crowd in case you need to leave for whatever reason.

DON’T take too much free stuff. Promoters representing the different Broadway shows will be around Times Square handing out free promotional gifts like hand fans and lip balms. Five Lion King fans are nice until you realize that you have nowhere to put them. Pick and choose what you take from promoters, and don’t be afraid to trash some of it.

DO have fun! Make friends with the people around you, snap pictures, and don’t be afraid to take a break at an overpriced chain restaurant if you think you’re about to pass out. Make the most of your experience, and hit up the TKTS Booth for discount tickets to any shows that catch your eye! Happy New Theatre Season! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Science Fiction...On Stage?

With the premiere of the latest season of the cult sci-fi TV show Doctor Who just four days away, there’s little else nerds (like myself) can think about. Which of course begs the question: how do I combine my love of science fiction with my love of theatre? How exactly do the quirks of science fiction translate on stage?

Those quirks translate quite well, actually. Several science fiction plays have been written over the years that have delighted audiences and challenged them to consider how technology may change our society in the future.

One play that has had a huge impact not just on theatre but also on language itself is Karel Capek’s R.U.R. The title stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, a company that mass-produces robots to speed up productivity in an industrial age. Eventually, the robots start to out-number humans, and earth’s population dwindles. Written in 1920, the play has been highly influential to the science fiction genre, and introduced the word “robot” - which stems from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labor - to the world at large. Many science fiction TV shows such as Dollhouse, Star Trek, and Futurama have made reference to the play over the years. Though the play is not often produced today, the text is available on Amazon.

Other science fiction plays take their cues from successful science fiction novels. Last year at the National Theatre in London, Director Danny Boyle staged Nick Dear’s haunting adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein. This highly theatrical production features Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame and Johnny Lee Miller in alternating roles as Frankenstein and the Monster, and examines what it means to be human and the ethical qualms that come with the power to create. Sadly, the West End production has closed, but it is still being screened in movie theatres around the world through National Theatre Live.

Have you seen any science fiction plays recently? Leave your favorites in the comments!