Sunday, December 8, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Last night, Munchkinhead and I went to see Les Misérables at the Skylight Theater in the Third Ward. We’ve both seen Les Mis live before – I saw it in London and the touring Broadway production in Milwaukee – and we saw the film together when it was in theaters. This production blew all of that out of the water. I was thoroughly impressed with everything from the theater to the performances to the sets and costuming.
We had mid-level price tickets as all the cheap seats were sold out; high in the balcony in actual chairs perched behind a padded balcony. We could see everything as long as we were willing to lean forwards every once in awhile. I loved how embellished the stage floor was, such that you almost couldn’t see all the little tape L’s marking prop placements. The theater provided the usual Footlights program as well as an Audience Guide with an extensive history of Victor Hugo, his works and the Les Mis musical.
The costuming of the production not only helped place the show in the property historical period, it also helped tell the story. The ensemble in any given seen was dressed in dirty beige while the main characters wore colored garments. The wigs were occasionally a little distracting – Munchkinhead and I were both surprised to see Fantine pictured as blonde in her headshot because she looked so awkward in that blonde wig – but it’s theater, everything’s supposed to be a bit over-the-top.
The set design was elaborately simple. Props felt minimal and many, many pieces were reused in many, many ways. The wagon cart that falls on the man Val Jean rescues was also Fantine’s death bed, part of the courtroom, part of the barricade and a table at the Thénardiers’ inn. Trap doors in the stage were well utilized, as were rotating set pieces. This is only one area where Skylight’s production far outshone the traveling Broadway show I’d seen back in ‘02. The Broadway production tried too hard with it’s sets. This production was well-balanced. The sewer scene was very neat, though the running water sounds near the end of a 3-hour production are a little cruel. And Javert’s suicide scene was exquisitely done.
The show was exceedingly well cast. When Fantine, played by Susan Spencer, walked onto the stage, she looked like a tiny little thing compared to the other cast members. I expected a squeaky little voice like Bernadette in Big Bang Theory. Then she opened her mouth to sing and had the most wonderful, thick voice that filled the auditorium and wrapped the audience in a wool cloak. I melted into my chair.
My favorite character, Enjrolas – because he his is the only part I can actually sing-a-long with somewhat decently – was played by Tommy Hahn and did not disappoint. His swagger and bombastic manners were perfect. Little Cossette, played by Harper Navin for the night we saw, warbled a bit during “Castle on a Cloud,” but it seemed fitting for a scared, cold young girl. I wondered why Gavroche, Luke Brotherhood, pointed out to the audience so much, but his singing was very good.
Val Jean, Luke Grooms, and Javert, Andrew Varela, played well off each other, almost as good as Chris Barrie and Craig Charles in the 8th season of Red Dwarf. The costuming and hair did a good job of making it easy for the audience to tell the two similarly built men apart. Their duet was fantastic, especially since they did my favorite verse combo, unlike the film version. And of course, the Thénardiers, Eric Mahlum and Rhonda Rae Busch, kept everyone laughing with their silly antics, expressions and physical clowning around.
Munchkinhead and I both absolutely loved the show and were very glad we came. As splendid as it was, I could only think while watching, “the book is so much better.”
Les Misérables plays at the Skylight Music Theater on Broadway Ave until December 29th. Tickets here.
If you’re in Milwaukee, I suggest checking it out.
If you like the Les Mis musical, I suggest reading the novel.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
We took our seats in the small basement theater, nice high chairs in the back, and quickly learned that it was going to be an interactive evening. Oh dear.
The small cast, well two of the three members, were bustling around the room handing out props and parts. We each received a small square plastic wrapper of some sort. Open, empty and with a suspicious expiration date on it. This was our “fire” noise. It did sound remarkably like a crackling fire.
I was handed a small handbell, A6, and just as I was about to offer it to Munchkinhead, who acutally plays handbells at church, Lori Minnetti – lottery girl, and everybody-but-Scrooge in this production, approached with a script part. “I have a bell!” I declared. “Well then, it will have to be you,” she said turning to Munchkinhead. “You’ll be the plump sister.” Lori warned Munchkinhead that she’d be chased, put a fun red bonnet on her head, left her the script and went off to find a dog.
The production began with an introduction by the third actor, James P. Iaquinta – who I’ve apparently seen as Santa aside The Great Ecclestone’s Rudolph. He explained the history of A Christmas Carol, announced the story’s 170th birthday and then went into a spectacularly inaccurate account of 19th century copyright law that bothered me for the rest of the evening. Mr. Iaquinta narrated the story by reading Dickens’ own abbreviated-for-public-performance version and interspersed it with a wonderful rendition of Scrooge and occasionally a bit of another character.
Overall, the production came off well. Many of the impromptu audience-cum-cast members had some difficulties coming in on cue, saying the right lines, or remembering which part they had, but several were good. There was an amazingly good dog and the prop lady could really dance. Munchkinhead managed to blush on cue, did her lines well and gave the third actor, Ted Tyson, a good run for it when he chased the plump sister all over the room. She was in and out of the rows of chairs so quick. Scrooge had an off-cuff remark about her being to spry for the old man. I wondered if he was supposed to have caught her. Out running him in heels, that’s my little sister!
It’s definitely a different way to do A Christmas Carol, but it’s the right play to do differently. If your up for a little adventure, some silly hats and spending your evening blowing to make wind sounds, this is your show.
A Christmas Carol at Milwaukee Entertainment Group runs one more show this weekend. Tickets are available here: http://www.milwaukeeentertainmentgroup.com/.
Monday, November 25, 2013
If you’re looking for a fun and easy-going show that will fill your evening with enjoyment, take your mind away from your problems and leave you giggling, Noises Off isn’t a bad way to spend your time. If you know an actor, take one with you.
Noises Off is a British farce written in the early 1980s. It’s about a touring theater crew and their adventures. Or a bit more accurately, a small, low-budget touring crew and their mishaps. Scene one sees them doing their final rehearsal midnight before opening night. Scene two gives us a backstage view to happenings mid-way through the tour, and scene three gives us an audience’s perspective of the end of their tour and their sanity.
It was cute. I’ll start there. It was very cute. One character, Brooke, played by Kellley Faulkner, has the most adorable bustier set and purple shoes.
It was also quite funny though I got the impression that is much, much funnier if you’re actually in the theater. Sitting between two actors, I found myself glancing back and forth between them wondering why they were laughing at many instances. And some of the intended humor – like when a character is seeing walking across a back platform across many doors that are supposed to go to different rooms – just wasn’t funny to me. Also, the cast of the production, backstage, warming up to go on by flinging their limbs all over the place, also not funny to non-theater folks. It reminded me of that Big Bang episode where Penny tries to teach Sheldon to act. But I suppose it’s good that actors can laugh at themselves, even if no one else is laughing with them.
The cast is phenomenal. My favorite was Lloyd, played by Joe Dempsey. He had two very distinct UK accents, one for when he was in his character-character and for his actor-character. That was delightful. I was especially impressed with the actors’ ability to make carefully scripted and rehearsed bits look like improv.
Costuming – I already mentioned those fabulous shoes, and set were well done. I actually found myself forgetting that the same set had simply rotated around. And I wasn’t distracted by the costuming – aside from wanting those shoes – like I have been in other productions.
Noises Off is running at the Rep until December 22nd in the Quadracci Powerhouse theater. Tickets and more information here.