The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Everybody loves a hometown hero. UofL basketball star Peyton Siva could barely do interviews for all the fans cheering SIVA! SIVA! as he entered the Barnstable Gala. He said he was enjoying the love and looks forward to coming back, even after he’s moved on to the NBA. Seems the party did save the best for last this year. We’re out. 11:05 p.m.
I was about to go, but Joey Fatone is here. 10:32 p.m.
Perennial Barnstable Brown Gala guest Travis Tritt pointed out that he sang the national anthem at the NCAA men’s basketball championship, which Louisville won. Therefore, he said he is definitely putting money on coach Rick Pitono’s Goldencents because, “he’s on a roll.” 10:27 p.m.
Valerie Harper, who is battling lung cancer, said she was doing well and, “I’m not going to waste my life worrying about when I’m going to die, so I came to the Derby.” Former UK football star and current Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb said he always enjoys coming to his “second home.” 10:17 pm.
When the stars come, they come fast at Barnstable brown. Among things we picked up in the last 45 minutes or so: Emilio Estevez is working on a movie about harness racing at several locations, including the Red Mile. “Thoroughbred racing is the sport of kings,” he said. “But harness racing is the working man’s sport.” He said he was dressed in jeans and a blazer because he lost everything at the Oaks. Josh Henderson acknowledged he drinks plenty of bourbon on Dallas. Stephen Amell acknowledged throwing back a lot of Guinness at Fourth Street Live. Larry Birkhead said he would like to get back on the other side of the red carpet, as a working journalists again. Revenge’s Christa Allen said she knew nothing about the Derby but, “I love horses.”
Accounted for so far: Morris Day, Freddie Jackson, Clay Walker and David Denman. Freddie stopped to talk to us and said he’s happy to have a “return engagement. You don’t always get invited back.” He sang a few Bars of “You Are My Lady” to Christa from the C-J And said he was going to rely on the ladies to pick Derby winner for him. 9:07 p.m.
Just talked to Christopher Brown, Tricia Barnstable Brown’s son, about his memories of the party, which include dancing with Brooke Shields when he was a little boy and getting his picture taken with Mark Harmon when they were both wearing white tuxedoes. Brown, who is now an attorney in New York, says his favorite guests are the ones that come back every year and, “have become family friends.” 8:10 pm.
Generally they don’t put reporters and photographers on the red carpet, but that’s where we are, waiting out a windy, pre-party shower. Some of the journalists are playing around getting shots in front of the branded backdrop, while fans huddle under coats and umbrellas. Not the place you want to have several thousand dollars with of AV or photo gear. 7:20 p.m.
It is hurry up and wait time here at the Barnstable Brown Gala. Media usually start to arrive late afternoon, and then we get to hang around until around 9, when the stars start streaming in. But the red carpet is freshly vacuumed, the tripods are set up, and it looks like we have national press from E! and other outlets. Fans are starting to line the fence lines. C’mon Miranda.
Louisville’s Barnstable Brown Gala will celebrate its 25th edition with plenty of old friends and some new faces Derby Eve.
Among the familiar faces at the home of The ‘Ville’s hostess with the mostess, Patricia Barnstable Brown, will be reigning country superstar Miranda Lambert, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, pop chart-topper Kid Rock, former ‘N Sync member and TV star Joey Fatone, and UK coach John Calipari, according to Louisville’s Courier-Journal.
New stars coming out this year include Josh Henderson, who plays J.R. Ewing’s son on TNT’s Dallas, Krysten Ritter, who plays the title role in ABC’s Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23, Stephen Amell of the CW’s Arrow, model Coco Rocha, twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss of The Social Network fame, Peyton Siva of the national champion University of Louisville men’s basketball team, and UK’s Nerlens Noel.
According to the C-J, Larry Birkhead, whose famously met the late Anna Nicole Smith at the 2004 Barnstable party and had a daughter with her, will arrive with a camera crew in tow documenting his Derby experience.
The Barnstable party always boasts the longest celebrity guest list of the Derby parties, and this year is no different. The celebs can generally be broken down into several categories.
Country music will be well represented by Clay Walker; Kix Brooks, formerly of Brooks & Dunn; Travis Tritt; Lee Ann Womack; and Eddie Montgomery, of Kentucky’s Montgomery Gentry.
R&B and hip hop will be represented by Freddie Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Morris Day of Morris Day and the Time fame, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC, Taylor Dayne, and Johnny Gill of New Edition. The presence of Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday means both actresses who won awards for playing Effie in Dreamgirls will be at Derby this year. Jennifer Hudson, who won her Oscar for playing the role in the film is appearing at the revived Grand Gala, Friday night. And Southern rock will be represented by Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Mark “Sparky” Matejka.
The acting attendees include David Denman of The Office and Drop Dead Diva, Terry O’Quinn of Lost, Mercedes Masohn of Chuck, Breakfast Club star Emilio Estevez, and American Pie star Jason Biggs.
And there are always plenty of human athletes in Louisville to watch the horses race: the NBA’s Anthony Davis and Darius Miller of UK’s 2012 national champion men’s basketball team, former UK and current Green Bay Packers star Randall Cobb, his Green Bay teammate linebacker Clay Matthews III, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Matt Cassel, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and Olympian Bode Miller.
Even before the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre opened its blockbuster production of Phantom of the Opera last October, director Everett McCorvey knew there was only one show to do for an encore: Les Miserables.
So, the day after Phantom closed, McCorvey says he wrote a letter to the show’s original Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh, telling him of the success of Phantom, which sold out 11 performances at the Lexington Opera House, and asking if he could get the rights to Les Miz.
Mackintosh forwarded the request to the show’s rights administrators and UK Opera received permission to stage the Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical Oct. 10 to 20 at the Opera House. Like Phantom, this will be the first time a full production of Les Miserables has been presented in Lexington, as the Opera House is too small to accommodate the stages and sets of the show’s professional touring productions.
The full-Broadway version of Les Miserables just recently became available to colleges. Nashville’s Belmont College was the first to present it, in March.
The School for Creative and Performing Arts did present the school edition of Les Miserables at the Opera House in March, and has presented that version before. The Oscar-winning film version of the musical brought it back into pop-culture consciousness late last year.
McCorvey said the UK production will be similar to the near $400,000 Phantom production and involve many of the same personnel, including stage director and set designer Richard Kagey, music director John Nardolillo and choreographer Susie Thiel. Auditions will be later in April, so cast members can work on their roles through the summer.
There will be more performances of Les Miz than Phantom with 13 public performances and two student previews. Tickets will go on sale in April 25 for the entire UK Opera season, which will also include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni March 6 to 9 and the annual It’s a Grand Night for Singing show-tune revue, June 13 to 22. (This season’s Grand Night is still to come, June 7 to 15 at the Singletary Center for the Arts.) Season tickets will be available only by phone, by calling (859) 233-3535 or at the Lexington Center Ticket Office. Available single tickets will go on sale in the fall.
Starting next fall, theater and music majors will be able to earn musical theater certificates while studying at UK. The certificate program will be available by audition and students in it will need to complete courses such as musical theatre, jazz dance, ballet, voice, vocal ensemble, and acting.
UK theater department chair Nancy Jones, who will oversee the certificate program, said the introduction of the certificate program was the culmination of a number of moves in the College of Fine Arts including the introduction of a dance minor under the direction of dance lecturer Susie Thiel and adjunct musical theater instructors Jeromy Smith and Lyndy Franklin Smith. The last several years, the theater department has presented musicals, including last year’s presentation of Thoroughly Modern Millie and this year’s production of Spring Awakening, which opens Thursday.
Auditions for the musical theater certificate program are in April and it will accept 10 to 12 students a year.
Something nudged me after Louisville’s Jennifer Lawrence accepted her Oscar for best actress last night: watching a Kentucky native walk off with a major acting award was not an exotic thing to see. And no, I am not going back to George Clooney’s 2006 best supporting actor win for Syriana.
I’m just going back to last June, when Ashland’s Steve Kazee took home the Tony Award for best actor in a musical for Once.
The question I had to answer for myself before I went to bed this morning was, has any other state, aside from the usual suspects of New York and California, produced two major acting award winners in the past year? We’re talking Emmy, Tony, Oscar — I tried to find a comparable Grammy category and could not.
The answer was no, even drilling down to supporting player awards, and not even California. Now if you want to win a major acting award, being born in New York is a really good idea — particularly Manhattan. But after that, at least in 2012-13, having an old Kentucky home seemed to be as helpful as anything.
Of course, we have long known there is talent in the Bluegrass State, from the music of Loretta Lynn to the performances of the late Patricia Neal.
But what I really like about these two wins is Lawrence and Kazee probably wouldn’t have been the two performers you’d expect to create a one-two hit for Kentucky just a few years ago. Before breaking out in Winter’s Bone, then teenage Lawrence was relatively unknown. And Kazee had the chops but was struggling to find that breakout Broadway role.
It’s a nice message to send to aspiring performers across the Commonwealth: As much as we are subject to stereotypes and self-loathing, there is a rich culture here. And it is entirely possible to come from Kentucky and reach the pinnacles of artistic success, even without a last name like Judd or Clooney. Just watch the big award ceremonies.
With Sunday night’s performance at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, J String completed the journey from hot summer night lark to a winter night performance that attracted a good, enthusiastic crowd, despite a cold rain.
The conceit of the duo of Lexington cellist Jacob Yates, now a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Cincinnati-based Broadway actress Jessica Hendy, is that they take big pop songs by artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and reset them for voice and cello. It has worked well for J String over a quintet of web videos that have been modest viral successes, particularly the sleek production of David Guetta’s Titanium.
J String has a lot going for it, primarily a pair of extremely talented musicians and a unique concept: voice and cello pop duo. Add to that, they have tossed artsy snobbery to the wind and taken songs often dismissed as Top 40 confections seriously.
That may have worked best in their take on Britney Spears’ debut hit … Baby One More Time, in which Hendy really accessed the emotion of a girl pleading to get a guy to give her another chance. The duo’s take also accented one of the controversial aspects of the song, the lyric “Hit me baby one more time,” which Spears has maintained is not a reference to violence. But Hendy’s performance did convey a note of unhealthy desperation.
Throughout the 16-song set, she and Yates, to an extent, embodied their songs like a Broadway performer embodies a character. On three songs, they were joined by Cincinnati Conservatory senior Josh Tolle, from a piano-bar style rendition of Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You to a pointed interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep.
Yates was clearly on a cellist’s holiday ripping intricate solos in songs like Titanium and using a looping pedal for some very cool overlays.
There is no clear path for what is next for J String. They are hoping to book a New York gig later this year that could get them in front of some influential ears. Hendy and Yates have no designs on creating original material, though Tolle is a songwriter and clearly finds the combo inspiring. Maybe they will know they have arrived if someone takes a J String original and sets it to guitar, bass, and drums.
For now, it’s fun watching the group put on the hits.
The sweltering days around the Fourth of July were perfect for city kids to pop open a fire hydrant to cool off, but not so great for expensive instruments in apartments that are not air-conditioned.
That’s what Lexington native Jacob Yates was fretting July 7 in his hot digs near the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he is a student. He was spending the summer playing cello and keyboard for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s production of Next to Normal. Cast member Jessica Hendy suggested Yates bring his cello to her air-conditioned home.
“We just hung out all day, and we just started making music,” says Hendy, whose Broadway credits include Cats, Aida and Amour. “It was one of those random things.”
They started working on a rendition of Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory with a healthy dose of J.S. Bach thrown in. Then they decided to make a video of it with Hendy’s iPhone and post it on her YouTube page.
That black-and-white clip (above), with Yates playing in a backward baseball cap and a giraffe in the background, became a minor success.
“We both really like social networking, and we started getting a significant number of views really fast,” Yates said.
Hendy elaborates, “We both posted it on our Facebook pages, and we had so many shares from friends and acquaintances who were posting it on their walls, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we should do another one.’”
Their duo, J String, was born.
Sunday night, they bring their live show to Natasha’s Bistro and Bar in Lexington with more than a dozen pop songs set for voice and cello including the summer of 2012’s No. 1 earworm, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.
Brooklyn, 7, will be an understudy for five roles including Molly, the littlest orphan who has several featured moments in the classic 1977 musical by Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan and Martin Charnin.
Annie is the first hit in several months of auditioning in New York for Brooklyn and her older sister Sydney, 9.
Their mother, Angie Shuck, says that all three of their daughters, including 6-year-old Raleigh, have shown a knack for musical theater and worked with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Academy for Creative Excellence, a musical-theater training program for school-age children. Brooklyn was seen recently in the UK Opera Theatre’s Grand Night for Singing showtune revue in June and singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus at last month’s Celebration of Song at Victorian Square.
With the experience Brooklyn and Sydney were gaining, Angie Shuck said they decided to take a shot at New York stages under the guidance of Lexington-based manager Peggy Stamps and her SquarePeg management group.
“They went up there, and they were naturals,” Angie Shuck says. “So we decided we would give them that opportunity.”
Stamps says the girls have been auditioning for 10 months and made it into the final rounds of auditions for several shows, including The Grinch and Godspell 2032.
Shuck says she was called last month about the Annie audition and had 22 hours to get Brooklyn to New York.
Brooklyn is a second grader at Garden Springs Elementary School, but of course will have to move to New York, at least while she is in Annie.
At its core, West Side Story is another iteration of a timeless tale about love doomed by ignorant and irrational hatred.
William Shakespeare wrote about it in the late 16th century in Romeo and Juliet, and other versions preceded it. The saddest thing is no one ever quite gets the point because you could take this story and plop it in the midst of numerous warring groups today, and it would make sense.
In the late 1950s, the trio of composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and a writer Arthur Laurents set it among warring white and Puerto Rican gangs. The unfortunate thing about the touring production that opened at the Lexington Opera House Friday night for a three day run is it felt more like a museum piece than a vibrant story.
Quite a bit has been made about how this production, based on the 2009 Broadway revival by Laurents, updated the show to make it contemporary. That is primarily in the portrayal of the Puerto Rican characters who are played mostly by actors with Latin-American backgrounds and speak Spanish for significant portions of the show. But the gang life still feels very rooted in the mid-20th century and sanitized for musical theater. If you were concerned this was going to be some kind of Martin Scorsese take on the Sharks and the Jets, rest easy. It’s hard to sound very tough saying, “Daddy-O.”
But what really keeps this production from soaring is another timeless hazard for tales of star-crossed lovers: It’s hard to get too involved with the story if you aren’t sold on the couple.
We aren’t quite sure why Addison Reid Coe’s Tony and Maryjoanna Grisso’s Maria are drawn to each other across the dance floor, and we never really are. The passion that’s supposed to spark two-and-a-half hours of drama really never ignites, and that leaves us hanging on the songs.
Fortunately, West Side Story gives us plenty of great songs and there are some really strong performances in this production, particularly Act I centerpieces America and Cool.
Anita is one of the great show-stealing roles in American musical theater — just ask Rita Moreno — and Michelle Alves makes the most of her opportunity here, particularly with the showcase of America, swinging her skirt around, mugging and leading a great ensemble turn. Of anyone in this show, it would be no surprise if Alves made it to Broadway.
As Riff, Theo Lencicki takes a similarly strong turn in Cool, where the gang leader teaches his Jets how to act. His counterpart with the Sharks, Andres Acosta as Bernardo, is also a compelling stage presence.
But it’s Tony and Maria that must carry the show. Grisso has a beautiful voice and develops some grit before the final curtain. Coe never makes us believe Tony was once a gang leader, and with two big solos, Something’s Coming and Maria, he did not seem to know what to with himself alone on stage.
The Spanish and casting of the Puerto Rican parts certainly strengthened the production, giving the show greater credibility than some versions of West Side Story that have scrimped on cultural authenticity. And there were some thrilling ensemble moments, particularly the Dance at the Gym and the highly stylized fighting of the prologue.
But the lesson of this production is that regardless of how you frame the show, it will rise or fall on its performances and storytelling. Whether it’s R&J or West Side Story, this is not a tale that should leave us dry eyed and indifferent.
The administrators of the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera have gone to great lengths to make sure the student productions they authorize are student productions.
No faculty appearances, recent grad cameos or guest artist ringers in the top spots. The performers in these shows have to be enrolled students.
And the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Phantom, which opened Friday night at the Lexington Opera House and runs for 10 more performances through Oct. 14, succeeds because of the students. The chandelier could defy gravity, the boat could not float and there could be nary a spark on the stage, and this still would be a great production because of the student singers and actors that grace the stage.
Lexington has been waiting nearly 25 years for this show, and it got a good one.
A student production was pretty much the only way the Bluegrass was going to see Phantom any time soon. It is still running on Broadway, so producers aren’t granting rights to independent theaters to produce it, pro or otherwise. And none of the national tours of the show have been physically or economically feasible to present at the Lexington Opera House. But a couple years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s group decided to authorize the show for high school and college student performances, in large part as a gesture of support for arts education.
Fortunately for Lexington-area theater fans, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre got the show, and as is the troupe’s habit, they have done it up right with a $300,000 production that comes with all the frills Phantom fans have come to expect including ginormous set pieces, cool features and pyrotechnics.
But we need look no further than Michael Bay movies to know productions can be big and flashy but have no soul. That’s where Phantom director Richard Kagey and the triple-cast performers come in.
Friday’s opening night cast, scheduled to perform again Saturday night, Thursday night and the Oct. 14 matinee, featured Jacob Waid plumbing the depths of the Phantom’s story for a heartbreaking performance and Rebecca Farley in a stunning turn as Christine. When she sings, “And through his music my soul began to soar,” her voice takes flight. Both nail all of their signature tunes, Think of Me for Christine and Music of the Night for Phantom, along with Elliot Lane who sings a gorgeous All I Ask of You as Raoul, Christine’s true love.
They are supported by a sometimes brilliant ensemble including Arianna Afshari and Evan LeRoy Johnson as the Paris Opera’s buffoonish leading soprano and tenor and Daniel Koehn and Jermaine Brown Jr. as the exhausted company directors, all of who skillfully make the show funnier than we remember it or thought it would be.
Here’s the real striking thing: A lot of the principal cast, including all three Christines (rounded out by Elizabeth Maurey and Monica Dewey) are undergraduates. Waid is a junior. This is in a company that leans so heavily on graduate students it had to establish an annual show specifically designed to give undergraduates a chance to perform. Here, they are shining in UK Opera’s biggest production ever. Some may tut, “Well this is a musical, not a real opera,” but it is a musical with extremely serious singing from the solos to intricate ensembles such as Prima Donna.
Phantom is a big show with lots of moving parts and in this production, they don’t always move great together. Quite a bit of dialogue was lost to blasts of orchestra — which overall sounded splendid under John Nardolillo’s baton — and the microphone system let singers down numerous times, particularly Lane, who frequently sounded like he was singing over a cell phone connection. There were also a number of times performers looked lost, like the doubles for Phantom and Christine crossing the bridge for the first time.
One big thing that worked very well is the dance ensemble with impressive synchronicity under second-year dance instructor Susie Thiel.
If ever there was a critic-proof production in Lexington, this is it. Before opening, this Phantom sold most of the tickets for its 11 show run (a performance at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 was added Friday) at the 866-seat Opera House. Those fans can turn out assured they will get their money’s worth.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich