Saturday, August 20, 2011

Winner Take All ( A Rock Opera) : A NYC Fringe Winner

Winner Take All ( A Rock Opera) is the story of two (possibly teen) lovers -- Catie (Anna Eilinsfeld ) and Ricky (Jared Zirilli), who get entangled in the cosmic musical battle between the bands of heaven and hell.

Trent Armand Kendall is the Narrator - someone between God and a Sunday preacher - who keeps the story moving. Jacquelyn Graham is Sally, the archangel who encompasses all the glories of soul and jazz. Her two angels are Ivory (charming Darren Lorenzo) and Chardonnay (sassy Kyle Lamar Mitchell).

The Devil is star of course. Brian Charles Rooney can do things with his voice and his charm that are a match for his role. The two Devilettes: Zakiya Young as Scarlett and Kat Nejat as Beaujolais are, of course, irresistible.

Winner is in every sense an opera, not a musical. The songs move the story along with only the briefest dialogue between sets.

The characters might at first all seem stock from the everlasting character prop shop--but they are cleverly drawn from a variety of myths. The star crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet anyone?) Those two Devilettes trying to get Ricky and then Catie to sign a contract (sounds like Faust?) Ricky with a guitar and having to go across a river to get Catie back. (Orpheus with lyre, going to Hades, to get Euridice?)

Without spelling it out quite that bluntly, the plots of some not-Rock operas are there, cleverly wrapped under a smooth coat of the infinite variety of genres of rock music.

From Catie’s poignant arias on love, to the Devil’s ranting showmanship, with the rhythm and blues, soul and jazz of Sally and her hip-hopping Angels, this is a whirl wind world musical tour.

Whether in trios or ensembles, the heaven and hell teams step up to the plate and bat 110 % each time.

Skip Brevis, the writer with Claudia Brevis, as well as Musical director and Keybooardist/Conductor is the major force behind the show.

While there were some moments when the words were not clear due to acoustics of the venue (45 Bleeker), the combo of classic stories with re-freshed rock compositions were a piece that could continue well beyond the New York International Fringe Festival.

Check out at Website:

Picture: Brian Charles Rooney with Zakiya Young and Kat Nejat (photo credit: Russell Rowland)

Friday, August 12, 2011



Anyone who hasn’t been vacationing on Mars for the last year, knows that Spider-man (the Broadway spectacular) turned out to be a bigger spectacle off stage.

Rather than complain that 65 million dollars doesn’t buy success like it used to, check out the true story ripped from behind the headlines in The Legend of Julie-Taymor or The Musical That Killed Everybody!

People laugh when they hear just the title. Reviewers are saying this is the top must see show in the 2011 NYC International Fringe Festival. Glowing pre-reviews and mentions have appeared in the Post, Daily News and The New Yorker.

Yes, even before seeing it, everyone is laughing.

The Legend is filled with stars from the big stage, starting with Avenue Q star Jennifer Barnhart, who brilliantly plays a manical Julie Paymore.

Timely and faced pace, Travis Fersguson’ s witty script, captures the essence of the complex characters involved in "Spider Dude... The Musical.” From Bruno, Broadway wannabe (Clint Carter) save the world rock star, to Lionel, the evil if misunderstood love struck columnist (Christopher Davis Carlisle) to Barry Shafrin as Billy (the Spider-Dude) --the lead roles are superbly casted. Shaun Rice, Michael Titone, Lynn Craig, Kiley L. McDonald, Johnnie Moore, as various characters complete the outstanding ensemble.

But if there is one reason that one should absolutely not miss this show, it’s about the music.

Moving the story along are noted composer Dave Orgin’s catchy songs: "I'm the Only Artist? Julie’s tribute to herself, Barry Shafrin's presentation of "Boy Falls from the Rafters"

Music director, keyboard player, David Fletcher led the "roots" rock band consisting of guitarist Paul Hemmings, noted local jazz artist, and drummer Casual T (Spring Awakening) through this rousing score.

Joe Barros’ choreography using simple but engaging moves, while presenting sometimes wordy material, were his version of “Tweet Tweet Tweet” and the extended song, dialogue number “Give the People What They Want."

Besides having great songs and great script, (and no lawsuits, accidents, or disasters), this show went up in 4 weeks, coming in at budget less then a seat at some theaters.

Besides 90 minutes of laughs and great music, this is a GREAT NOT TO BE MISSED ONCE IN A LIFE OPPORTUNITY AT THIS YEAR’S NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL FRINGE to see wonderful talent.

LATEST REPORT: As we go to post reports are that even if Spiderman is SRO for the next 7 years, it just might justly break even.

Looks like Legend however could very well outlast the original:)


Thursday, August 11, 2011


The program could well double as the contents of a popular woman’s magazine. Take a quiz of “What type of woman are you?” or read a self help piece on how to get your man to pay more attention to you.

The answers are here at the Santa Fe Opera this year.

The five operas span over 200 years, in which opera audiences in Europe and America went through all kinds of revolutions (military, industrial, social, technological, etc.), but there’s a lot about each of the leading women that fits modern molds.

Vivaldi’s Griselda

Griselda (the shepherdess who “married up” represents the ultra-traditional woman who will stand by her man, no matter what he does to denounce her. While there is no singing role for the devil in this opera, it is clear that her husband the king is possibly possessed by demons from the list of bizarre actions he has taken in his career by the time the opera starts. Griselda bears with it, even turns in her tiara.

Eventually Griselda meets by coincidences her supposedly long dead daughter (killed by her king husband 15 years ago). Proof of maternal instinct? But then what’s a mother to do when she figures out the plot revolves around her husband the king marrying his own daughter whom he told her he had killed?

It’s folklore made famous by Boccacio's Decamaron, and a story repeated in some form every day in modern abused women’s centers.

Gounod’s Faust (1859)

Marguerite is also a pious woman, and it takes the powers of the devil to help Faust first seduce her and then reduce her to utter ruin. She also will give up the jewels that Faust gave her, and she does not condemn him for her misfortune but instead turns to God for salvation.

Gounod, like Vivaldi, wrote church music as well as opera for commercial opera houses. Faust is based on characters already familiar, in this case to Goethe’s Faust which in turn was based on legends. The religious flavor of entertainment is strong.

With that caveat, is Marguerite still around today?

Maybe she is even reading some advice column right now on what to do when your lover leaves you.

Puccini’s La Boheme (Turin, 1896)

Mimi is the first hint of a modern woman. On one foot she stands in the traditional feminine flirty world of the past, while the other foot supports a woman alone, eking a meager living. She wants to get and to give love, but there is never any hint th

at she wants a married life with kids as a result.

She lives alone and goes to visit four guys upstairs on the pretext of losing her key and her candle going out. (Translate that to modern looking for love advice: “go borrow a can opener from some single guy down the hall”).

While she says she prays to God, she is not saintly like either Grieselda or Marguerite.

Mimi is a seamstress, which might be an update of Marguerite at the spinning wheel, and a traditional “women’s work.” Her lover Rudolpho is a poor poet, and like the philosopher Faust--neither of these guys are working class material. The devil is not there to come up with a cask of jewels so Rudolpho instead buys her a pink bonnet. He however will not do right by her until the very last minute when she is clearly dying and there is an operatic opportunity to sing in desperation.

That said, both Marguerite and Mimi are clearly popular girls, maybe two of the top ten loved opera roles of all time These are definitely romantic types, even if the result of such

soulful matches is well...

But La Boheme presents another possibility for the modern woman: Musetta, who desired by many men, can waltz her way through her love, and is good to her women friends like Mimi. And she lives to see another day.

Alan Berg, Wozzeck (Berlin, 1925)

Marie could never have the hope of marrying up like Grieselda, or even having the beautiful romantic moments, albeit brief ones, that Marguerite and Mimi have with their lovers.. For at least a decade, she has been with Wozzeck, a barber, not a man of letters, definitely lower class.

While Marie is more open about her sexuality (she has had Wozzeck’s child and somehow survived), she is seduced with glittery green earrings to bed another man.

One can not escape noticing that besides being wrongly treated by their men, each of these woman is also abused by the society they live in. Grieselda is a queen and yet she is shamed. Marguerite is an unwed mother who has nothing left but to kill her child and be hanged for it. Mimi’s consumption has no chance of abating in the

unsanitary conditions of the urban poor.

Marie will meet her end because the clearly crazy Wozzeck, alienated and tormented by cruel society, will act out his demented rage by killing her. Sounds like it was ripped from the headlines--well in a way it was. The story of the first murder case to use the insanity plea became a play that a 100 years later Berg wrote his avant garde opera.

Mennoti’s The Last Savage (1963)

Kitty breaks the mold of the other opera heroines in this season’s lineup. She is the one in control. She is looking for her man and since she is the greatest anthropologist, he must be a real savage. She is the one who conducts the seduction during training her savage to be civilized.

One wants to shout, “At Last!” at the glories of comic opera.

She has no need for jewelry because she is one of the richest women in the world. In Act II, the Chicago penthouse party to introduce the Savage to Society, society comes out more obnoxious than at fault for the woes of humanity.

For all of that, when Kitty opens her mouth to sing, it’s far from the blues of modern jazz, and we are treated to the wonderful delights of a coloratura to rival any soprano role. Rossini, Verdi, Puccini still live in the

glories of a fine heroine.

While Grieselda, Marguerite, Mimi, are Marie suffering and dying, Kitty is the All American Girl of the 1960’s, spunky spirited and sparkling.

She of course will never replace Marguerite or Mimi on stage or in our hearts.

No, but she is the wanna be dream that sells these magazines to their real life descendants.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ramayana

Constellation Theatre Company lives up to its name in presenting this heavenly production.

The Ramayana received critical acclaim last year but the best sign of its success is that of returning audiences for its re-mount.

That of course would be a given in South East Asia where sacred epic in many versions has been retold for millenniums.

This live version, directed by Allison Stockman, captures the sacred spirit of the religious nature of this work while providing first class ( serious, sexy and silly) entertainment.

Here's the recipe for an epic:

Music - here supremely provided by Helen Hayes winner Tom Teasley ( .

Poetry-- Valmiki’s tens of thousands of verses in ancient Sanskrit turned into a lush soaring script by playwright/poet Peter Oswald

Dramatic tensions between good and bad guys-- from the blue god Rama (Andreu Honeycutt), to his dazzling wife Sita (Heather Haney) and a notorious villain, Ravana the Demon King ((Jim Jorgensen)

Singing and dancing and acting -- performed by an outstanding company of gods and demons.

Pageantry --this is not your monochromatic Greek tragedy setting--this is ancient India! The color of costumes and lights and props were both spectacular and yet utterly believable, including those multi-headed demon masks. (Thanks to A.J. Guban, Kenra Rai, Anna St. Germain, Samina Vieth)

Did I forget to mention you need monkeys, lots of them, like a pre-historic “Planet of the Apes” cast, led by the monkey god Hanuman (Matthew McGloin)

And of course divine inspiration helps, and that comes from director Stockman.

One warning on this production: it’s life span is all too short (Aug. 4-21) and it’s tickets going fast. Check it out on the web at

Side note: Recently there was controversy in New York over an animated film version of the story which many found irreverent. Check out this link for more on that.


July is the time to stretch your theater wings and join the migration of theater goers to the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

This year CATF celebrated its 21 year. With a past history of over 85 plays by 60 different playwrights, this festival is now a destination of its own for theater goers.

With three stages, It’s like going to the circus--- except that the big show is what is the latest in contemporary American theater.

Here’s a re-cap of this year’s line-up:

In the center ring, the main attraction was undoubtedly the two works by Pulitzer prize winners. David Mamet’s “Race” --the provocative drama of two lawyers defend a wealthy white executive accused of raping a black woman and Sam Shepard’s “Ages of the Moon,” a gritty reunion of two old friends over bourbon on ice to reflect on fifty years of love and friendship--over the barrel of a shotgun--both were worth the trip.

On the side ring, Kyle Bradstreet’s “From Prague,” is a compelling exploration by three characters in a city of ghosts, “where memory and consequence collide.”

In the smaller ring, Lucy Thurber’s “ The Insurgents” tackled violence and patriotism and Tracy Thorne’s “We Are Here” presented a “functional” happy family coping with the death of a son.

It’s not any one play however, but the combinations that make CATF an exhilerating experience. Themes range from individual to global concerns, situations contain both the comic and the serious. And opinions on what
is great and what is terrible will vary. What is never a question is the consistent high quality of the actors and the directors.

The ambience of historic Shepherdstown with art galleries and historical sites nearby to enjoy the time between shows, is the perfect place to step back a bit from urban theater centers and to take time to think just what “American” and “contemporary” and “theater” mean--starting of course, at its famous bakery:)