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Friday, May 27, 2011

SYTYCD8 - The Dance is Back!

So You Think You Can Dance - Season 8 - Atlanta and Bay Area Auditions - Ep. 801 - Season Premiere
Atlanta Audition - Judges: Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Lil'C
Bay Area Audition - Judges: Nigel Lythgoe, Toni Redpath, Tyce DiOrio

THE DANCE IS BACK!!! THE CAT CAME BACK!!! It's now not summer anymore unless we can hear the luscious voice of Cat Deeley every week. So soothing!

Ok, so I'm not sure if I can keep up blogging the auditions, since as the years go by, I have less patience for the bad auditions or the sappy sob stories, but hopefully Nigel is learning to show the good stuff more, since that's what we're here for. If I wanted to be invested in bad dancers, I'd watch Dancing with the Stars.

But I'll definitely be back in full force for the Top 20, which this year, will start off like good ol' times as competitive pairs. Then when they've whittled it down to the Top 10, the All-Stars will return and be paired with a Season 8 competitor. Seems like they've finally wiggled their way with great mix of both systems! Nigel may have just come off from a boring American Idols season but I have to admit, the new judges (especially J. Lo) and focus on good singers in the audition rounds and the revised Top 24 system started off well enough. Unfortunately, America and middle-of-the road singers won out. Lets hope this season of SYTYCD avoids those problems.

And as we start Season 8, our expectations are even HIGHER. I have less patience for the regular contemporary solo auditions that seem to come by, especially after the likes of Travis Wall, Neil Haskell, Mark Kanemura, Jacob Karr, Katee Shean etc.

Luckily, there aren't too many horrible auditions to start off this eighth season.

Here are the good auditions I liked from the premiere episode:

Atlanta Auditions: - Choreographers: Katee Shean (S4 Winner) and Jacob Karr (S6)

Melanie Moore, 19
She seems pixieish or reminds me of someone from Everwood for some reason. Terrific moves and has this zen presence in a cool and not pretentious way.

Deon Lewsa Jr., 18
Damon Bellmon, 19
I'm not sure how far they'll go and it wasn't the most amazing Hip-Hop I've seen but the way they paired up together was a lot of fun. Cute tricks together.

Marko Germar, 22
The guy got shot but lived to dance and thank goodness because he was beautiful and I loved his vibe. Plus, always got to cheer on another Asian.

Other dancers of note: Bianka Hinklerian, 18 (fast Latin dancer), Kimalee Piedad, 27 (with shirtless partner that I noted more), and Kyré Batiste, 18 (fluid hip-hopper with grandma as a judge).

Also, a cute blonde who jumps the gun on thinking he's made it to Vegas, but then really does make it, is sadly not named, nor do we see him dance, but I'd like to see more.

Bay Area Auditions: - Choregraphers: Katee Shean and Will Wingfield (S4)


Ashley Rich, 22
LOVED LOVED LOVED HER. SO SMOOTH. SO FLUID. SO HIGH. BEAUTIFUL. Add that she seems genuinely like a sweet sweet SWEET girl with just enough zesty attitude to be cool, and I think I found my first favorite of the season.

Jeffrey McCann, 28
Way better B-Boy than Timothy (see other noted dancers below). Amazing stuff that actually looks like DANCING. I love that he's built in a performance around the b-boy moves and is totally in sync with the music. Love this guy. Hope he does well in other genres, but we won't know til Vegas! Also, very hot.

Ryan Ramirez, 18
Almost made it to the finals last year but didn't. Reminds me of Rachel Lefevre. They totally set up the clips up to think that she'll fail, but damn, she started dancing and it was beautiful and Top 20 material, and easily makes it through to Vegas.

Lilly Nguyen, 23
Only a short clip of her dancing but it seemed really artsy yet hip, and loved her response to Vegas. Cute!

Levi Allen, 19
Great musicality within his b-boy, contortionist mix. Fails at choreography but I like his chill attitude. If he got proper dance training, I could see him doing well in a few years. Of course, considering the way they filmed all the b-boys in the "hood" in the lead-up clips, gives me the impression that proper dance classes won't happen.


Other dancers of note: Amber Williams, 18 (quirky, bold and people are gonna love her for being herself but it actually just kinda annoyed me, but her lines are so straight and very strong dancer), Timothy Joseph, 21 (ok b-boy who drops out during choreography), Danielle Ihle, 18 (sob story but doesn't cover up the fact that her contemporary is very mediocre), Whitney Bezzant (has a short clip but has some nice turns in there).

A cute couple both make it to Vegas, but not much other info given.

Note to Producers: Please do not show auditions like Ieisha Moss EVER again. The former stripper with the missing front tooth. It felt mean and exploitative and was just a pure embarrassment, not just to herself, but to the show. Actually, the D'on-que Addison audition (where he breaks into mad tears, even after the dancing has stopped), just let him use the show as his "performance" art stage.


Due to my insane schedule, I may or may not blog the rest of the auditions, but I'll be back for the Top 20 and you can always follow me @tapeworthy where I'll have my less formal ramblings about #SYTYCD (and everything else).


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Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Beauty and Wonders of Discovering Animal Planet - Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo - Play Review

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo - Richard Rogers Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Rajiv Joseph, Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Runs until July 3rd 2011


Robin Williams headlines the Broadway production of this Pulitzer nominated play, but the entire cast works in such harmony together in this stunning production of Rajiv Joseph's superb play. Williams manages to inhabit the title role of the Bengal Tiger and gives his line passionate bite, keeping the zingers along, without overtaking the play with his Robin Williamsness, but he nicely reigns himself in to let Arian Moayed (Tony nominated for this role) and Brad Fleischer (Streamers) take on the central roles.

The play takes place at the Baghdad Zoo, where American soldiers (Fleischer and Glenn Davis) are watching the remaining animals, including a Bengal Tiger (Williams), after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Musa, an Iraqi translator is assigned to help the soldiers during their missions, but when Davis' Tom shows Fleischer's Kev the golden gun he took from a raid on Saddam Hussein's palace after Hussein's death, they accidentally kill the Bengal Tiger, who begins to haunt the soldiers.

What transpires is a hauntingly beautiful, and often funny look at the afterlife, and the amount we value actual human life, partially spewed by a Tiger, and through the tense lives of the American soldiers and the Iraqi translator, as they weave their way around Baghdad trying to avoid getting bombed themselves.

Arian Moayed makes a mesmerizing Broadway debut as the once nervous Musa who understands the English language on the page but trying to learn the English that American soldiers actually speak. The miscommunication is both funny and terrifying as the stakes in Baghdad can turn in a split second, all while Musa remains haunted by the tragedies he has seen his people suffer.

Brad Fleischer's Kev is not the brightest man on earth, but as the US government has entrusted him with a gun in his hands to protect the peace, there's quite a responsibility that Kev does not fully understand how to handle. Fleischer manages to turn what could easily have been a caricature, and fully encapsulates a stereotype of an American soldier and stuffs it full of emotion as story flips the simplicity in his character around.

Sheila Vand, Necar Zadegan and Hrach Titizian are terrific in various roles of Iraqi citizens, including Vand's Hadia, who has a connection to Musa's past and current mental state, while Titizian is wonderfully slick and dangerous as an angry Iraqi (won't go into details to avoid spoilers).

The beautiful production is designed by Derek McLane (busy this Broadway season with designs for How To Succeed and Anything Goes, and the simple beauty of the recent revival of Ragtime), and his sets quickly evoke Baghdad with very minimal, but very grande designs. Kaufman's staging allows Joseph's thrilling, chilling, and yet humour play to breathe with its excellent cast (most whom are making their Broadway debuts) while inserting Robin Williams perfectly into the mix without glares of stunt casting, while harnessing the star's quality to the benefit of Joseph's play.

Don't let the Tonys snubbed nominations for Robin Williams or the play be a sign of the quality of this play, nor don't shudder at seeing Baghdad in the title deter you. The play is far more entertaining and entrenching than the title may lead you to believe, and is not to be missed, including Arian Moayed (who IS nominated for a Tony) and Brad Fleischer's performances.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Girl Power(less) - Play Reviews

The Shape of a Girl - Green Thumb Theatre at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Joan MacLeod, Directed by Patrick McDonald
Runs until May 19th 2011


The Post Office - Pleiades Theatre at Berkeley Street Theatre - Toronto, ON - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Rabindranath Tagore, Translated by Julie Mehta, Directed by John Van Burek
Runs until June 4th 2011


Calendar Girls - Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto, ON - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Tom Firth, based on the film by Tom Firth and Juliette Towhidi, Directed by Marti Maraden
Runs until May 28th 2011


The Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People ended its season bring back a new touring production of the critically acclaimed The Shape of a Girl, though it was my first time seeing it. A one act, one actor play, that looks at female bullying through the eyes of a bystander named Braidie. The play was inspired by the tragic murder of Victoria teen Reena Virk, who died at the hands of her female teen harassers and is alluded to within the story, but Braidie recounts the incidents that lead to a similar bullying incident at her own school with actress Georgina Beaty doing multiple duties as other characters.

The Shape of a Girl deals with some very painful and ugly parts of our society, one that we often would like to ignore. It is less of a play to enjoy than it is to be reminded of our responsibilities in society. While some of the early intercutting of characters often get a little confusing, as the storyline begins to clarify itself, MacLeod's message sharpens enough to cut an emotional wallup.

I commend the message of the play, and liked turning the point-of-view to someone not directly involved in a bullying incident, with a likable performance by Beaty. There could have been a heightened anger in Braidie's rebelliousness and I'm not sure if the play was fashioned in a way to fully utilize one actor to benefit the story, and could have benefited from other actors, or a different structure in the dialogue.


In the Canadian premiere of the over 100-year-old Indian play The Post Office, a simple tale of a hopeful but ill boy seems hampered either in the translation or through an uneven production that starts off with divinely strong. In a simple but beautiful set by Teresa Przybylski and movement choreography by Hari Krishnan, the play starts off quite seductively. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the play seems extremely inert, and despite the exotic costumes, it never feels like we've travelled to India and I wasn't taken into the wonders of Tagore's folk tale.

The play was not helped by an unconvincing boy portrayal by female actress Mina James, who tended to shout her lines as the rest of the cast remained subtle (even in some cartoony roles). We are supposed to feel for the boy and hope that his fantastical predictions come true, but it was fellow characters that grabbed much of the attention.


Calendar Girls, a direct play translation of the cutesy British feel-good film landed in London's West End a few years ago, and has now been brought over the pond to Toronto in a full scale production. While the production is competent, there seems to be no real reason for it to exist in its current format, except as an excuse to sell tickets to groups of older ladies who seemed to enjoy the elder version of Sex and the City. I found the play to be the epitome of commercial fare, with a perfectly calculated balance of some choice manipulation with the central cancer plot device to justify the frivolity in the girls bonding story. There's a crassness behind the play's attempt to give deeper resonance to the feel-good story.

Much of the first act only seems to ploddingly place all the right pieces for the story to exist, and its only the zippy freshness of the actual calendar shoot when the show feels like it is truly starting. A second act fares better, but again, much of the drama seems quite contrived and tame, relying on taboo subjects that no longer feel taboo (and not set up well enough to feel taboo even in its context), and I almost wish they used the flimsy excuse of the story and at the very least, had turned it into a musical, which could have heightened some of the silly drama.

At least Fiona Reid stars in it as the leader of the group, and Reid is wonderful, while the rest of the cast stays on pace while they bare all (physically, not as much emotionally, though it's not like the dialogue gives them much to work with).

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


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Friday, May 20, 2011

ITBA 2011 Winners

The Independent Theater Bloggers Association (the “ITBA”, which I am a proud member of!) is proud to announce the 2011 recipients of the Third Annual Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Awards. Patrick Lee was one of the ITBA's founding members. Patrick passed away suddenly last June, and was an erudite, passionate, and tireless advocate for theater in all its forms. Patrick was also the ITBA's first awards director, and was a regular contributor to Theatermania and TDF Stages.

The 2010-2011 Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Award Winners:





OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
Jerusalem

OUTSTANDING BROADWAY MUSICAL REVIVAL
Anything Goes

OUTSTANDING BROADWAY PLAY REVIVAL
The Normal Heart

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
The Kid

OUTSTANDING OFF-BROADWAY REVIVAL (PLAY OR MUSICAL)
Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches

OUTSTANDING SOLO SHOW/PERFORMANCE (ALL VENUE CATEGORIES)
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made

CITATIONS FOR OUTSTANDING OFF-OFF BROADWAY SHOW
Feeder: A Love Story
Invasion!
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Belarus Free Theater's Discover Love
Black Watch
ReWrite

UNIQUE OFF-OFF BROADWAY EXPERIENCE
Sleep No More

OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
The Scottsboro Boys

CITATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE BY INDIVIDUAL PERFORMERS
Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Reed Birney, A Small Fire
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherfucker with the Hat
Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Hamish Linklater, School for Lies
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
Benjamin Walker, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

CITATION FOR EXCELLENCE IN OFF-OFF BROADWAY THEATRE
La Mama

The list of the 2011 recipients of The Patrick is read by Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, the cast and creators of the acclaimed [title of show] and who are currently collaborating on Now. Here. This., a Developmental Lab Production at the Vineyard Theatre: http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/show-now-here-this.html. A video of their reading is on Youtube at http://youtu.be/-aC4viVcP2Y which was filmed by ITBA memberJesse North.

The ITBA, is comprised of bloggers who regularly see live performances in all its forms in New York City and beyond. Members are in New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and London. For further information and a list of our members, our website iswww.theaterbloggers.com. If you are interested in learning more about the ITBA, email info@theaterbloggers.com. To invite the members of the ITBA to your show or event, please send an email to invite@theaterbloggers.com.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


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Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Olden Dazed and Confused - Play Reviews

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark - Second Stage Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Lynn Nottage, Directed by Jo Bonney
Runs until May 22nd 2011


Forests - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Linda Gaboriau, Directed by Richard Rose
Runs until May 29th 2011


the cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union - Canadian Stage Company at Bluma Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Greig, Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Runs until May 14th 2011


The School For Lies - Classic Stage Company - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Ives, based on Molière's The Misanthrope, Directed by Walter Bobbie
Runs until May 22nd 2011


Apparently I like to see Lynn Nottage and Wajdi Mouawad plays within the same week. Last time, I saw Mouawad's intense play Scorched days after seeing the incredibly stressful Lynn Nottage Pulitzer Prize winning play Ruined, both critically acclaimed, both dark peeks into humanity set in places far from the world I know and understand. And both plays that STRESSED ME OUT (yet were beautifully rendered pieces). Nottage and Mouawad's latest plays are currently being presented in NYC and Toronto (respectively), with differing goals, and with differing results.

I also caught the Canadian premiere of Cosmonaut... directed by latest directing wonder (and Brian Dennehy's director du-jour) Jennifer Tarver, and a new take on Molière's The Misanthrope called The School for Lies (above) by David Ives and directed by Broadway's Walter Bobbie with a cast that includes Mamie Gummer (Off the Map) and Hamish Linklater (Twelfth Night, The New Adventures of Old Christine). But like Mouawad's Forests, I found all three production's efforts and intentions outweighed the play itself.


By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is split into 2 very different acts in very different times, and both are complete departures from the dark intensity of Nottage's previous Ruined. The first act is a hilarious spoof on Hollywood in the golden age when Blacks were still on the sidelines as we meet maid Vera Stark, who attempts to land a plum new Black role as she attends to a demanding starlet.

With a cast that could possibly be one of the Broadway musical casts around, the non-musical play is still deliriously campy and hits all the racial zingers with a deft ensemble cast.

Sanaa Lathan (Tony nominee for A Raisin in the Sun) is superb as Vera Stark, never wavering into caricature while dealing with the absurdities surrounding her. She's both a comic foil, a leading lady, and a smart and sassy Black woman trying to make it in a very White Hollywood of the 1930's. Stephanie J. Block (9 to 5, Wicked) is absolutely hilarious as starlet Gloria Mitchell, desperately trying to hang on to her fame, while Kimberly Hebert Gregory (The Brother/Sister Plays) and Karen Olivo (Tony winner from West Side Story) are Vera's very funny friends who are looking for a break in Hollywood. The cast is rounded out by the excellent Daniel Breaker (Tony nominee for Passing Strange), David Garrison (Wicked, Married, with Children) and Kevin Isola (Boys in the Band).

The play takes a tonal shift in act 2, fast forwarding to more current times as a panel begins to analyze Vera Stark making a talk-show appearance during the 60's. It's a clever set up to get 2 more time periods represented, and giving us a post-script to Vera's life since her Act 1 days, but Nottage seems to be repeating a simple message for a very long second act, and loses whatever energy and biting satire she had built up in the very entertaining first act. Unless I missed some bigger point, I found the second half of the play, while interesting, didn't seem to have the amount of ideas to sustain its presentation, and felt repetitive, thus diluting the pointed debate on Vera's ultimate fate. It did however allow most of the cast to play completely different characters, with Karen Olivo probably doing the greatest 180 character change.


While Vera Stark was Nottage's foray into comedy, Forests is a very different play for Wajdi Mouawad from his Incendies, yet somehow it remains on a similar dark and intense tone that seems to regurgitate many similar themes and storylines. Without giving too much away from either play, I felt Forests started well enough, with an intriguing opening, but Mouawad's newest story starts delving into a weird and convoluted story about one teenager's complicated family tree, and things get complicated as more and more past relatives' stories are revealed as we go back in time, with nothing really coming together until the end. Keeping track of all the names and relations is complicated enough, then throw in a medical mystery, references to historical events including the December 7th killings of the female engineering students in Montreal, and the ultimate story about what makes a family, gets diluted in this quasi family-tree mystery that is made more complicated then it needs to be.

With so many characters and branches of the family presented, we are given something that is supposed to be epic, but we are never given enough time to truly care or connect with most of the past relatives that when another shocking thing happens to any of the characters (and Mouawad again throws in as many taboos and shocking events as he can, without a core strong enough to sustain the believability as he did in Incendies), it's hard to truly care.

There are some terrific performances from the cast who are able to pull us in fast, especially Liisa Repo-Martell, Sophie Goulet and Matthew Edison, and I loved a lot of the direction from Richard Rose. There's a simple yet haunting set by Karyn McCallum and Rose utilizes it with some beautifully theatrical moments, but Mouawad doesn't connect the play with a strong enough centre to make this work. When teenage daughter Loup (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) searches for her past with the help of RH Thompson (Avonlea), we're supposed to see the 6 generations of her past through her grieving eyes (just after her mother (Jan Alexander Smith) dies), but Loup's angry teenager and her older professorial guide remain caricatures. Linda Caboriau's translations may not have helped, as often the dialogue felted stilted and trying, sounding more like bad poetry than anything eloquent or more importantly, real.


the cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union doesn't fare much better with a simple storyline, instead, mixing several stories of disconnected people (including a Russian cosmonaut) as they weave their way through life, wanting to be heard.

It's a beautiful message, but one where I needed to read the liner notes before I fully understood the play, and I'm never sure how successful a play is if you have to read explanations for it. The second act is a bit more clear with its tales of two Russian cosmonaut's stuck in space, a Russian stripper and her elder stripper friend, an Irish woman left by her husband, a pregnant Policewoman, a rich suitor, and more. With only a cast of 6, the doubling of characters gives resonance to their opposing storylines, with Tarver nicely underlying the message in some of the staging, but while the emptiness of the stage and simplicity of the directions seems to enhance the themes of loneliness and disconnect, the multiple storylines don't quite gel until the second half, where by then, the long play exhausted the ideas the playwright was probably trying to convey.


On a brighter set (in fact, a very very white looking set), David Ives and Walter Bobbie present a revamped, modernized version of The Misanthrope with mixed results. In The School For Lies modern words are used in rhyming verse, all while presented in frilly old costumes and a stylishly minimalist, but classic looking set.

Between the old fashioned rhyme and the modern words being used, it took me a long time to truly ease into the rhythms of the play. It was clever, but almost too much so, and written to seem oh so clever, and some of the comedy and plot points get lost in the "cleverness" of the rhymes. The physical comedy probably got the biggest laughs, but the game cast tried their very best, but essentially, the words mostly got in the way.

Most successful was leading man Hamish Linklater, so hilarious on television and in Twelfth Night in the park, he's splendid as Frank, the mysterious newcomer. Mamie Gummer gives an aristocratic glow, but seems at more ease being the straight woman around the hilarity than being spitting out comic barbs.

Luckily Allison Fraser (Gypsy) milks every rhyming line with a sadistic barb that gives her antagonistic character a charming evilness and comic hilarity.

The rest of the ensemble is quite good, but Steven Boyer manages to steal the show with very few lines as the manservant.

Still, as comical as the cast could be, the updated version of a classic was probably unnecessary, and while the play even starts out pointing to its attempt at clarifying Molière's classic for a modern age, I felt it got even more confusing in its updated format, saved only by some terrific performances and comical physical direction.


Photo credits:
Cosmonaut's Last Message by Bruce Zinger
Forests by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


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