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

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 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 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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