Electrifying CHORUS LINE Rocks the Room at TUTS

 

Cast of the current TUTS production of A CHORUS LINE
Photo: Melissa Taylor

 

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

[All photos of this current TUTS production of A Chorus Line by MELISSA TAYOR]

***Click Any Photo to Enlarge***

By way of full disclosure, let me first declare that the legendary Tony Award-winning musical, A CHORUS LINE has been a longtime favorite of mine since the brilliant Michael Bennett directed and choreographed its record-breaking initial run on Broadway years ago. During that period I had several joyful opportunities to see the show on The Great White Way. It is a stunning theatre piece in every way, from the miraculous musical score (Music: Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics: Edward Kleban), its poignant book (James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante), and the stunning and ever-present dancing conceived by the aforementioned Mr. Bennett. The result was a monumental musical of such intimacy that by evening’s end we feel that we know, and very much care, about each of these young dancers struggling to “make it” on Broadway. All of these elements are respected, and once again brought to full fruition, in this extraordinary edition skillfully mounted by the Theatre Under the Stars organization here at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. TUTS Artistic Director, Dan Knechtges, is fully justified in bursting with enthusiasm as he introduces the production in a brief video screened just before the curtain rises.

Cast of A CHORUS LINE

His pride should certainly be shared here by the Director (Julie Kramer), Choreographer (Jessica Hartman), Dance Captain (Josh Walden), Musical Director (Michael Horsley), the all-equity cast of brilliant dancers, and the superb TUTS orchestra. Add to that a cast of ten gifted young dancers that make up the Teen Ensemble you will not be able to distinguish from the professionals in the cast.

For the uninitiated, except for the stunningly beautiful finale, all the action takes place in an empty Broadway theatre rehearsal space, decorated only by a stage-wide mirror. There, seventeen young dancers full of dreams are auditioning for the eight slots in a major Broadway musical. Clifton Samuels plays the show’s demanding director, Zach, whose intensely probing interviews of each candidate reveal the human stories that give this show its universal appeal, as they combine with the beautiful music and astonishing dancing. Those elements all explode right out of the gate in the thrilling opening number as the dancers sing the optimistic, “I Hope I Get It” in their quest for this job. Next we meet Mike (Alex Joseph Stewart), an Italian guy with a slightly goofy personality. He brings lively animation to telling the story of his learning to dance during the cheerful, “I Can Do That.” In an intricate number titled “And,” Logan Keslar brings comic flair and amusing body language to the role of flamboyant Bobby.

Sharrod Williams as RICHIE

That song cleverly intertwines the stories of Judy (Madison Turner), feisty Val (Celia Mei Rubin), and athletic Richie (Sharrod Williams, who delivers the acrobatic, “Gimme the Ball,” segment). Troubled childhoods come to the fore during the hauntingly beautiful, “At the Ballet,”

Veronica Fiaoni as “Maggie,” Paige Faure as “Sheila,” and Gabi Stapula as “Bebe”

as we hear the stories of Maggie (Veronica Fiaoni), Bebe (clear-voiced Gabi Stapula), and Sheila (Paige Faure). A somewhat ditzy, Kristine (Brooke Aver), explains she is no vocalist in the amusing, “Sing,” accompanied by her patient husband Al (Sean Ewing).

Mark (Brian Corkum) opens the dynamic full cast tribute to adolescence, “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” with the hilarious saga of his youthful confusion about gonorrhea.

Samantha Marisol Gershman as “Diana”

In her role as Diana, Samantha Marisol Gershman brings lashing power and desperation to the song “Nothing,” describing the struggle of a young dancer unsure of how to tap into feelings as an actress.

Celia Mei Rubin as “Val” 2019

A performer’s endless quest for attractive physical appearance is nicely captured as Val sings “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Miss Rubin lights up the stage from one end to the other.

Sarah Bowden as “Cassie”

Sarah Bowden as “Cassie”

Then comes perhaps the most stunning moment in the show as Sarah Bowden, in the role of sassy, sexy Cassie, (who just happens to be Zach’s former lover), performs the epic number, “The Music and the Mirror.” Her astonishing and memorable dancing was nothing short of brilliant.

Eddie Gutierrez as “Paul”

In the role of the emotionally fragile Paul San Marco, Eddie Gutierrez delivers a poignant, center stage soliloquy with its powerful and heartbreaking tale of a young gay man’s struggle to find his identity. But our spirits soon rise again as Diana and the full company enchant us with perhaps the show’s most beautiful and enduring song, “What I did for Love.”

Cast of A CHORUS LINE

And just when we think there is nowhere to go from such bliss, the stage explodes with the sensational, “ONE,” the glitzy and golden finale that would perfectly showcase the incredible talents that TUTS had assembled for this unforgettable production.

A Chorus Line continues through September 22nd at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, and 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at www.tuts.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

 

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Houston Symphony Commemorates the Heroes of 9/11 and Beyond

Arriving youngsters mingled with superheroes at the CONCERT FOR HEROES

[All photos courtesy of Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Click any photo to enlarge.]

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

Aptly titled A SYMPHONY OF HEROES, the Houston Symphony’s recent concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on the solemn anniversary of September 11th, was at once both reverent and optimistic. A free concert sponsored by HUNTSMAN, the stated theme was wonderfully supported by the orchestra’s selection of music from classic film scores celebrating such cinematic heroes as Superman, Robin Hood, Wonder Woman, Batman and Spiderman.

Free books for the children.

Some of those iconic figures even prowled the pavilion plaza delighting arriving children prior to showtime. Kids even had the chance to select free books from plaza reading tables.

The Houston Symphony

On the pleasantly warm late-summer evening there were even some welcome breezy crosswinds circulating in the pavilion, while soft pastel lighting embraced the shirt-sleeved orchestra on the stage.

Stuart Chafetz, Conductor

Presiding over the musical excitement, and more formally dressed in a crisp white dinner jacket and black tie, was the cheerfully good-humored conductor, Stuart Chafetz, who brought lots of fun to the proceedings, even when not one, but two microphones failed him while addressing the eager crowd.

Area fire fighters were some of the heroic first responders on hand to greet the crowd.

The thrilling opening selection made it clear this was an important occasion with the shimmering and ever-rising crescendos of John Williams’ powerful Summon the Heroes, featuring an impressive trumpet solo from Mark Hughes. Then, before the blaring excitement of Music from The Incredibles, Chafetz amused the old-timers in the crowd by singing a few bars of the old Mighty Mouse theme, “Here I Come to Save the Day.”

Kids could dress as super heroes.

Next came whirling excitement and sweeping grandeur from the musical pairing of Main Theme from The Avengers and Suite from X-Men: The Last Stand. Soon the enthusiastic crowd would be clapping along at a galloping pace for the Lone Ranger excitement of Rossini’s familiar William Tell Overture. What followed was what I consider to be one of the finest film scores of all time: Korngold’s majestic and Oscar-winning “Symphonic Suite” from 1939’s classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

MOMS are super heroes too!

The Music from Wonder Woman began with a spooky and ominous atmosphere and moved on to pounding rhythms. There would be more rousing excitement from the Theme from Batman, just at the time the conductor’s microphones were failing him as he bravely shouted to the crowd in the dark and cavernous arena. That problem was resolved just in time for maestro Chafetz to invite all emergency responders and military service members to stand and be recognized by the appreciative audience.

The intermission-free program moved on to the mysterious Spiderman Theme, and then to the somber, yet richly beautiful tribute of the elegant Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan. Then the delicate transitions and gentle sweetness of John Williams’ Love Theme from Superman seemed an appropriate recognition of the real superheroes being honored by this very special concert from our own heroic Houston Symphony. Bravo!

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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Swinging SATCHMO Celebration from Anderson Twins & Friends

BY DAVID DOW BENTLEY III    “The People’s Critic”

It seems to be becoming an annual musical celebration of the end summer as brilliant jazz musicians, Peter and Will Anderson, hold forth at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre in Manhattan’s Symphony Space on Broadway for yet another sensational concert in their increasingly popular SONGBOOK SUMMIT series. Last season’s sophisticated offerings featured musical tributes to Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy VanHeusen, and Irving Berlin. This year fans were treated first to the music of Duke Ellington, and then I had the good fortune to attend Opening Night of their final offering, a concert celebrating the musical legacy of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. I use the term concert rather loosely here, because in reality, the programs put together by these gifted identical twins are really educational musical seminars of the first order.

While Will may be best known for his dazzling skill on clarinet, and Peter for equally brilliant work on saxophone, the multi-talented lads move freely between various instruments during the performance.

Vince Giordano greets fans at Club Iguana

On this occasion they were handsomely supported by guest star, Vince Giordano, performing on string bass, saxophone, bass, and tuba, with solid vocals on the side. Real New Yorkers are familiar with Giordano and his fabulous Nighthawks Big Band performing regularly at the Iguana Nightclub. Another special guest for this concert was sensational trumpet player, Mike Davis, substituting for the scheduled Jon-Erik Kellso at the performance I attended. Rounding out this solid cast of fine musicians were Rosanno Sportiello on piano and Paul Wells on drums. The talented ensemble quickly had the party well underway before the twins joined them onstage to display astonishing dexterity on sax and clarinet for the lively fun of Muskrat Ramble. Carefully planned and researched projections of related photographs, quotations and video clips nicely accented the musical performances. There was even a sprinkling of the witty theatrical drawings of Al Hirschfeld (like the one of Armstrong above), made available by special permission of the Hirschfeld Foundation. As the musical history lesson unfolds, the audience is taken back to Armstrong’s jail time as a young man, his early work with the Riverboat Band when being mentored by King Oliver in 1918, and then on to the Roaring Twenties days of Armstrong’s Hot Five Band. New Orleans flavors abound as we are treated to the delicious funereal seriousness of the tune, Saint James Infirmary. Vince seems almost airborne as he bounces with his tuba, Rosanno sparkles on the eighty-eight and the twins pair perfectly, as Mr. Wells nicely decorates every number on the drums. Armstrong quotes like, “If it hadn’t been for jazz there would be no Rock-n-Roll,” and “What is jazz? If you have to ask you’ll never know,” punctuate the projections. And speaking of jazz, Armstrong’s affinity for occasional scat singing was traced back to the famed 1930’s trio, the Boswell Sisters. There was more fun with an assortment of amusing vintage TV advertisements that featured Armstrong touting everything from Schaefer Beer to Suzy Cute baby dolls. Antique clips of Armstrong appearances at the Hollywood Bowl and on What’s My Line added to the merriment. There was a poignant story of how, as a young boy, Armstrong was nurtured and encouraged by the Karnofsky’s, a family of Jewish immigrants. They reportedly loaned him five dollars for his first coronet, and for all their kindness, Armstrong wore a Jewish star around his neck for the rest of his life.

Will and Peter Anderson

But back to the fine music, Mr. Davis then came onstage, trumpet in hand, to blow the roof off the room for Struttin’ with Some Barbeque. That tune was written by Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin, and here it becomes a tour-de-force from the ensemble with bright piano accents, and a sassy vocal from Giordano. Next, the West End Blues has the audience longing to get up and dance, with Davis hotter than ever on trumpet as the twins blend in perfectly with sax and clarinet, while Giordano continues to shine on tuba. Soon the Andersons would have their fingers dancing across their instruments for Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, during another cheerful vocal from Vince. This historical and wide-ranging musical saga continued as it touched on Armstrong’s more than 30 film appearances, his navigation of the troubled waters of the Civil Rights Movement, and amusing anecdotes like the time President Nixon helped Armstrong at an airport as he unwittingly carried Satchmo’s luggage (containing 3 pounds of marijuana) through customs. The great tunes rolled on one after another with such gems as the rousing Someday (You’ll Be Sorry), a lazy and intoxicating When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, and of course Armstrong’s Grammy-winning hit, “Hello Dolly,” that drove The Beatles out of Billboard’s #1 slot. Through all of this, and the abundant music that followed, the Anderson Twins had the special glow of two gentlemen enjoying the fun of fulfilling their special destiny in just the way God must have attended. How fortunate for those of us in attendance.

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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A Brilliant Bublé Wows New York Fans at The Garden

Michael Bublé at Madison Square Garden

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III – “The People’s Critic”

[All photos property of ThePeoplesCritic.com  Click any photo to enlarge]

Eager fans await the star

The flags aloft

As the full-house crowd at Madison Square Garden eagerly awaited last Wednesday evening’s arrival of the star, the American flag hung proudly from the ceiling right beside the banner of Michael Bublé’s Canadian homeland. During the non-stop, two-plus hours that would follow, Mr. Bublé would abundantly prove why his astonishing talent has made him every inch a citizen of the world.

The superb orchestra surrounds the star.

His sensational vocal artistry would combine with the brilliance of the three-tiered onstage orchestra featuring some three dozen of the world’s finest musicians, all elegantly dressed in formal attire. Technical wizardry would enhance the evening throughout, with eye-popping visual excitement that would feature multi-colored lighting, ever-changing kaleidoscopic effects, and multi-screen projections from every angle that would constantly surround the star. It would all frame a delightful night of music to linger long in memory.

Joining the fans in-the-round

From the outset the collective mood in the massive arena was a reflection of the day’s relief, following the long-awaited arrival of simply beautiful summer weather in Manhattan after what had been a brutal recent heatwave across the nation. While the main staging area was at one end of the arena, that stage was connected right out into the middle of the audience via a long ramp reminiscent of Miss America Pageants in days of yore. That enabled Bublé to move freely from the main stage into the middle of the audience, and to even do some jazzy segments at center stage surrounded by his fans and a core group of his finest musicians. If the crowd was in an upbeat mood, so was the star as he opened the show with a thunderous and pulsing rendition of one of his signature tunes, “Feeling Good.” Then it was on to the snazzy and optimistic hit, “Haven’t Met You Yet,” with the star prancing about the stage like a dancer and exploding with infectious joy. With comic flair he joked with the audience about the high cost of the show tickets required to accommodate his growing family, quipping, “Who knows how much bribes will cost getting my three kids into college?”

Bublé in a bubble above the stage

Without skipping a beat he brought the piercing power of his voice to an absolutely thrilling, “My Funny Valentine,” with the orchestra glowing amid rosy pastel lighting as the entire stage was embraced by a neon rainbow. Just as suddenly came the bright transition to a sensational and finger-snapping, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” that seemed a perfect demonstration of vocal control. Then came a beautiful performance of an early personal Bublé favorite of my own with the seductive Latin rhythms of the haunting, “Sway.”

During a momentary respite, Bublé shared stories of the beloved grandfather he always credits with having inspired his love for music of the Great American Songbook. But then, with seemingly endless energy, he was soon whirling across the mid-audience ramp with the bouncing delights of, “Such a Night,” and moving on to still more perpetual motion during a jazzy and hot, “Up the Lazy River.” There was old-style, brassy big band fun, as the guys in the orchestra echoed each line of Bublé’s lush delivery of, “When You’re Smiling.” There would be a spontaneous moment as Bublé coaxed a young man in the audience to sample “stardom” by singing a very respectable, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” There was also a brilliant trumpet solo that blew the roof off the room for, “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You.” The love theme continued with a tender and magnificent, “When I Fall in Love,” and reached a poignant and touching zenith with Bublé’s original composition, “Forever Now.” A devoted family man, the song was his intimate reflection on a parent’s enduring love for a child, and was movingly depicted here in accompanying slides of an evolving nursery where empty crib and room furnishings slowly appear, and then finally vanish while symbolizing the cherished life of a child. For many years Bublé had been unable to perform the song because it was much too personal in its meaning. Thank goodness it is now included. Continuing this show so full of love and humanity, he then offered another touching performance with the song, “Home,” dedicating it to the brave soldiers and first responders protecting us around the world.

A Lively Lavender Conclusion

Then, avoiding the risk of having melancholy set in, a fun-filled trio of Louis Prima hits followed as “Buona Sera Signorina,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,”and “Just a Gigolo,” put the room back in full-party mode as the audience cheerfully joined in the singing. There would be breathtaking artistry for an explosive and flashy, “Cry Me a River,” before the star left the stage giving the impression the show was over. But no! Soon he was back for a soft, warm “Where or When?” before solidifying the affectionate bond between audience and star with the beautiful, “You Were Always on My Mind.” Bublé was once quoted as saying, “It’s my job as an artist to make people feel.” Job well done, Michael!

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

A FOLLOW-UP NOTE FOR MADISON SQUARE GARDEN FANS:

In a happy discovery, my guest and I enjoyed a fine dinner before the show (and dessert afterward) in the lively NILES restaurant just across the street. Consider giving it a try.

 

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Cinematic Fun at the Music Box Theater

Cast at The Music Box Theatre (L-R) Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor, Rebecca Dahl & Brad Scarborough

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

“The People’s Critic”

It’s that time again. Time to get out and enjoy the nightlife in Houston. The cheerful delights continue as the familiar troupe at the Music Box Theater takes on their latest subject: “Songs of the Silver Screen.” To steal a line from the movie Casablanca, the cast has been able to round up “the usual suspects,” minus one, as cast regular, Kristina Sullivan, was granted a much-deserved vacation during this production. But all the regulars remain, including Brad Scarborough and Rebecca Dahl, the company’s founders, along with Luke Wrobel and Cay Taylor adding to the fun. The merry atmosphere was quickly established with the cute and childlike performance of “The Rainbow Connection.” It featured great harmonies and solos and was a joyous opener that was topped by projections of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. A pleasant parade of film parodies and memorably famous quotations would follow. A clever spoof of the James Bond films was titled, “Tomorrow Never Says Never, and Also Never Dies.” It featured a fine performance of the song, “Nobody Does it Better” by Luke, as the cast performed a shadowy, slow-motion background mime of the action-packed shootouts reminiscent of the 007 films. Adding to that action were a few staticky malfunctions of the house microphones that were regrettable. A Luau Beach sketch was somewhat rescued by a nice duet of “Endless Love,” from Cay and Luke, which might have been improved with less fussy “business” and desperation during that beautiful song. A much more satisfying segment followed with a parody of The Godfather that was hilarious. Luke was marvelous in the title role, presiding over the wedding of his daughter, amusingly played by Cay in the role of the bride, hilariously named Mary Nara (with all due respect to my favorite spaghetti sauce). Brad was every inch their equal in his wimpy role as the slapped-around younger brother, Fredo. It was a comic high point as the Godfather lashes out, slapping Fredo around and scolding him for “…touching my daughter on her wedding day!” Of course Fredo is rewarded with the traditional horse’s head as the Godfather proclaims, “I knew it was you Fredo.” Brad then moved on to a sensational and growling performance of “Pretty Woman,” while seducing a Pom-Pom girl in the person of Rebecca. His was a resonant, smooth, rich performance, with such a fine transition to “Unchained Melody” that it made me think, “This guy could be filling stadiums with that fine voice if he wasn’t here delighting audiences in this intimate venue.” Before intermission arrived, Rebecca would deliver a fierce, “Holding Out for a Hero,” and then there was a calming, “I Say a Little Prayer,” quartet to close out the act.

There was plenty of excitement to begin Act Two during the “Eye of the Tiger,” from the film ROCKY III . With Brad’s laser beam voice, the cast joined in behind him as he mimicked the boxer’s jump rope and punching bag workouts. Here and there we hear a few ghostly but forgettable telephone conversations spoofing the movie Scream. On a higher plane, we have an uproarious death scene from Terms of Endearment, with Rebecca in full diva mode for a fine duet with Brad of the A Star is Born hit, “Shallow.” It is delightfully and simply accompanied by guitar (Mark McCain), along with the constant beep-beep of the bedside hospital monitor. It adds to the merriment until one of the exasperated hospital attendants finds it necessary to finish Rebecca’s lengthy and amusing death scene with a smothering pillow. But don’t despair. Soon we have a cheerful trio of, “Always look on the Bright Side of Life,” that even features some ghostly dancing with the corpse. Black humor to say the least, but the audience loved it. Cay then provides a powerful performance of the song “Tightrope” from The Greatest Showman, and brings it to a light and airy conclusion. Rebecca hits a solid vocal homerun with a, “The Man That Got Away,” that would have made Judy Garland proud. Meanwhile, science fiction fans won’t want to miss Cay’s performance as a tiny but hilarious E.T. Then Brad and Luke then give us two fierce and wild guys from Top Gun, with “Danger Zone.” Another parody titled, “When Harry Met Seattle,” featured Cay with a wistful, dreamy and poignant, “Moon River.” Luke brings solid country flair that is perfect for Houston, when he sings the wonderful “Everybody’s Talkin,” before moving on to a radiant, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which blended in perfectly. Echoing that theme, we suddenly see Brad waking up like the sleepy Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, as he announces in wonder, “It wasn’t a dream! All I wanted was to get back to our theater.” That launched the cast into a sensational quartet of, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.” The cheering audience seemed in total agreement.

Next Up at The Music Box

SONGS FROM THE SILVER SCREEN continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through June 2nd with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and there will be Sunday matinees at 2 pm on May 19th and June 2nd. Reserved seating for all shows is $41, and General Admission is $31. For tickets and information call 713-522-7722 or visit the website at www.themusicboxtheater.com, where you can also find information about the upcoming show, FEELING GROOVY.

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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HOUSTON BALLET Brings the Calm after the Storm to the Woodlands Pavilion

Artists of the Houston Ballet perform, “THE LADIES”
Photo: Amitava Sarkar

By David Dow Bentley III     “The People’s Critic”

Miraculously, after several days of violent storms across much of Texas and the Houston area, it was a perfectly beautiful and pleasantly warm evening for an outdoor production as the HOUSTON BALLET took to the stage of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on the first weekend in May. Rather than the full productions that this company sometimes presents in that venue, this Mixed Repertory program would be a series of selected ballet works, some classic, and some more modern and experimental. While the muddy hillside lawn was closed to picnickers, there was plenty of free seating available in the house. The eclectic program would begin with two World Premieres. The first ballet was titled, “Ina and Jeffrey,” and starred Natalie Varnum (choreographer) & Oliver Halkowich. The two dancers were dressed in casual pink jumpsuits with white plastic helmets, operating in graceful twin-ship. They mirrored each other’s movements in a playful and prancing program that had a free-spirited aspect probably quite appealing to youngsters in the audience. With choreography by Jacquelyn Long, the second world premiere was, “It Just Keeps Going,” featuring Soo Youn Cho & Harper Watters. It was a more stately and elegant work full of graceful dance pairings, dramatic lifts and extensions, all with rich violin accompaniment (Denise Tarrant), while capturing a daydreaming and restful atmosphere. The third selection was titled, “Oh, There You Are,” and featured the full ensemble, along with more beautiful violin accompaniment from Miss Tarrant. It began with the cast of dancers arrayed about the stage almost as statues on platforms. Under random spotlight flashes, the movement quickly ensued, with jumps, weaving motions and pop-ups from various parts of the stage.

Artists of the Houston Ballet perform, “OH, THERE YOU ARE.”
Photo; Amitava Sarkar

There was a whirling intermingling of the full cast of performers, and it became apparent that this ballet was serving as a kind of examination of gender stereotypes. An unusual departure for a dance program was the introduction here of two microphones on the stage from which oral commands were given to the dancers: “You shouldn’t cry,” “Be a man,” “You run like a girl,” “Guys can’t multitask,” “Boys will be boys,” “Show them who’s boss.” Commands to the women in the cast included such directives as, “She really let herself go,” “Be careful of your figure,” “Should you really be eating that?” Then the narrator seems to address the audience with an overriding question: “What if we really see ourselves and accept every bit of who we all are?” Before the dance concluded there would be foot-stomping excitement, pleasant accompaniment on guitar, and visually appealing acrobatic energy during what appeared to be a whirling dance from a Jewish wedding. Always there seemed to be the unexpected around the next corner. Shadowy mood lighting added to the look, and the rustic and crimson glow of the side projection screens on either side of the proscenium, accented the complexity of dancing that could not have been as random as it appeared for those who had to learn this difficult choreography (Melody Mennite). The action-packed conclusion was reminiscent of the Jets and Sharks ballet in West Side Story.

Houston Ballet’s Miller Outdoor fall performance with Principal dancers, Soo Youn Cho & Jared Matthews. PHOTO: Lawrence Knox

But in this long, 3-Act evening of dance, those seeking the more traditional classic look of ballet would not be disappointed. Act Two did feature one oddly modern work titled, “Come In,” (choreographer, Azure Barton), that at times seemed endless to this observer. But prior to that endurance test, the act opened gloriously with the grandeur of the Stanton Welch ballet, “The Ladies,” magnificently accompanied by the music of Rossini as splendidly performed by the Houston Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Ermanno Florio. I pity those who left after Act One. Better still would be the spectacular final offering of the evening: the “Act III Wedding Pas de Deux” from the exquisite 19th century ballet, Raymonda. It starred Yuriko Kajiya and Chun Wai Chan in a stunningly athletic display of the best that ballet has to offer, and the appreciative audience quickly rose to its feet in joyful ovation. While walking to the parking lot I overheard an elderly couple sharing their own delight as the woman remarked, “Last night we were hiding in a closet during the tornado warnings, and now here we are!” A happy ending all around. Bravo!

[Click upcoming Pavilion schedule at left to enlarge.]

On Wednesday, May 22, Houston Grand Opera is bringing a beloved classic to life on The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Main Stage – Giacomo Puccini’s colorful and vibrant work of art La Bohème. Mezzanine and lawn seating are free. Reserved orchestra seating tickets are $20. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. and gates open at 7 p.m.

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

 

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Krajewski Returns Amid Musical & Acrobatic Splendor at Jones Hall

The Aerial Duo

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

“The People’s Critic”

Photos: Chris Gray/Cirque de la Symphonie

[Click any photo to enlarge]

 

The fun at Houston Symphony’s Jones Hall began as soon as much-loved conductor, Michael Krajewski, walked to the podium, as the orchestra played the

Michael Krajewski

Theme from Rocky, long associated with its very popular Principal Pops Conductor who retired a few years ago after 17 years in that position. As he took the microphone, he quickly joked about how this would be his “Third Annual Farewell Concert.”

The jester named “Jaster”

And what a concert this astonishing, “Cirque de la Symphonie,” program would be.

The Cubist

From just a few rows back in center orchestra, I was about to see feats of both magic and acrobatic strength and skill that would seem to defy all laws of logic and gravity. The amazing moments would be punctuated by bits of clown-like comedy and pantomime from a jester named “Jaster,” and his talented female partner. With always amusing movements and facial expressions, they performed incredible and instantaneous costume changes that forever put to death the notion that, “Seeing is believing!”

The Mask

Another striking cast member seemed to be some strange, angular and orange creature known as The Mask due to his eerie white face. He would lumber about the stage, all the while skillfully juggling numerous small white balls and seeming like some very large and mysterious dog as he roamed about.

Of course musically this would be a breathtaking performance, and to accompany it maestro Krajewski had wisely selected a smorgasbord of the most exciting classical music in the repertoire. Act One would include such symphonic delights as the “Tritsch-Tratsch (Chit Chat) Polka,” of J. Strauss Jr., Khachaturian’s “Ayesha’s Suite No. 1 Dance from Gayane,” Bizet’s “Les Toréadors,” the “Danse Boheme,” from Carmen, “Waltz from the Masquerade Suite” by Khachaturian, Offenbach’s “La Vie Parisienne Overture,” and Offenbach’s delightful “Can-Can,” from his Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld.

The Hula Hoops

Throughout the performance there would be soaring and astonishing aerial acrobatics on ropes, straps, colorful silken strands, as well as fantastic feats of juggling with neon discs, hula hoops, and bowling pins. John Williams’ thrilling “March from Superman,” would take the program to Intermission, but there would be much more visual and musical excitement to come.

Act Two began with another amazing magic trick as the formally dressed conductor was called upon to assist in thoroughly binding the cast’s comedienne from head to toe with heavy rope that secured her hands, arms and legs. Then the reluctant Mr. Krajewski was coaxed to join his bound victim in a small election booth-like curtain at mid-stage. The curtain was briefly shaken for a matter of seconds, and when it was pulled aside the woman was still bound, but miraculously now wearing the conductor’s formal black jacket, tightly secured under the ropes that bound her, while he was now in shirt and tie without his jacket! The mystified audience gasped in amazement as the ropes were untied and the jacket restored to its rightful owner.

The rolling “German Wheel”

The Contortionist

Musical selections during this second half of the program included Tchaikovsky’s “Danse des Cygnes,” from Swan Lake, Dance of the Buffoons from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden, Smetana’s “Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride, Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance,” Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz” from Swan Lake,” and the Rossini-Respighi “Tarantella” from La Boutique Fantasque.

The incredible “Neckstand”

But the savvy conductor had cleverly saved the best for last as he launched the orchestra into the seductive masterpiece of Ravel’s intoxicating, “Bolero.” To top it off, this selection prompted the slow-motion appearance, from opposite ends of the stage, of two mysterious figures, men of magnificent physique, and coated from head to toe in silver make-up to rival the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” Known as the Acro Duo, their every move continued to be in slow motion that paralleled the building excitement of the music. Their gymnastic feats of posed acrobatic artistry were simply unbelievable. I hope these several photographic examples will verify my claim. Bravo to the orchestra, conductor and all performers for this uniquely memorable concert!

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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