The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
With the departure of founder and music director Ryan Shirar, Paragon Music Theatre closed following its performance of Gypsy in May. But stage director Robyn Peterman Zahn and choreographer Diana Evans Pulliam wasted little time in collaborating on a new effort.
This weekend they announced on Facebook that The Rep will have its first production in December with Smackdown for the Christmas Crown at the Lyric Theatre.
Pulliam and Zahn will serve as co-artistic directors with Brock Terry serving as music director.
Auditions for Smackdown will be at 5 p.m. Sept. 24 and 25 at the Diana Evans School of Dance, 153 Burt Road. The show is set in the 1950s with two vocal groups vying for the coveted Christmas Crown at an annual holiday variety show. The Facebook page describes it as, “think Lawrence Welk after 6 beers.”
In all, they are seeking to cast one strong male, comic actor, make and female ensembles of four to eight and a chorus of 15 to 30.
May9Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, Eastern Kentucky University, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Musicals, New York, Paragon Music Theatre; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Berea College, Diana Evans Pulliam, Eastern Kentucky University, Gypsy, Katie Owen, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Paragon Music Theatre, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Ryan Shirar, She Loves Me, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Tracey Bonner, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Coming Thursday on LexGo: Mama Rose came at the right time for Katie Owen, though at first it did not seem that way.
For years, Lexington musical theater artists have wondered how long Central Kentucky could keep Ryan Shirar.
A multitalented musician, Shirar played in a wide variety of formats and locations, wrote orchestrations that enhanced productions of some of the great musicals of the American stage, and showed songs in new lights. He ultimately brought Lexington something it had not had for years: a theater company dedicated to presenting traditional Broadway-style musicals.
But with Paragon Music Theatre‘s presentation of Gypsy next weekend, the question has been answered. Shirar, 29, will leave his posts as executive and music director of the theater to pursue a master’s degree in orchestral conducting, specializing in theater, at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
The prestigious music school scouted out Shirar and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It’s a free degree,” Shirar said Monday over lunch. “It’s a full-tuition scholarship, plus stipend. So it’s very hard to turn down an offer to a conservatory for that.
“Ultimately, I love what I do now in Lexington, but even if I stay here and do what I’m doing, I need a graduate degree in order to have a little more stable job. It was the perfect time and perfect opportunity. Things had lined up, and it was almost like … ‘I put it all together for you. You’ve just got to go.’”
Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Paragon’s stage director, says, “Ever since I came here to work with Ryan — and I came because I am so blown away by his talent — I’ve been telling him he needs to leave.”
Peterman-Zahn, who has national stage and film work on her résumé, says Shirar’s talent rivals that of musicians she has worked with across the nation, including New York and Los Angeles.
“Ryan has a musicality you just can’t learn,” she says. “It’s a really special gift.”
Along with choreographer Diana Evans Pulliam, Peterman-Zahn and Shirar formed a trio that helped drive Paragon to some great heights, including a spring 2009 production of The King and I and last summer’s presentation of The Sound of Music.
The company started in 2004 with a production of State Fair, with Tracey Bonner as stage director. Read the rest of this entry »
Mar16Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Downtown Arts Center, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Paragon Music Theatre, Theater; Tagged as: Berea College, Diana Evans Pulliam, Downtown Arts Center, Gypsy, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Michael Friedman, Paragon Music Theatre, Rent, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Ryan Shirar, She Loves Me, Sound of Music, Tracey Bonner, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, University of Kentucky
Paragon Music Theatre has announced that founder Ryan Shirar will step down as the company’s music director and executive director after its May production of Gypsy to accept a full scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Shirar founded Paragon in 2004 with stage director Tracey Bonner, who departed after the inaugural production of State Fair at the Lexington Opera House (She returned to Lexington last year to direct SummerFest’s production of Rent). He then led the company, for a few years with stage director Michael Friedman until 2009 when current dramatic chief Robyn Peterman-Zahn joined the leadership team that includes choregorapher Diana Evans Pulliam. Under Shirar’s direction, the company has presented musicals big, like last summer’s Sound of Music at the Lexington Opera House, and small, like a charming 2007 production of She Loves Me at the Downtown Arts Center.
The theater filled a huge void in the Lexington arts scene, which had not had a group dedicated to musical theater since Lexington Musical Theatre closed in 1996.
Shirar has worked extensively outside of Paragon as a pianist, conductor and arranger with groups including the Lexington Philharmonic and teaching at Berea College and the University of Kentucky.
Though he has seemed very comfortable in his multiple local roles, Shirar did allow in a 2005 interview that, “I don’t want to wake up someday and regret not having tried something bigger.”
Gypsy will be presented May 13 to 15 at the Lexington Opera House. The Paragon press releases states that after Gypsy, “future plans for Paragon are uncertain.”
Jul30Filed under: Musicals, Paragon Music Theatre, slide shows, Theater; Tagged as: Addyson Bell, Audrey Zahn, Caroline Keegan, Cyndi Ackley, Evan Pulliam, Greg Wilson, Henry Zahn, Jacob Karnes, Kurtis Brown, Lisa Braswell, Mike Van Zant, Paragon Music Theatre, Sophia Cooper, Stephanie Wier, Sydney Steele, The Sound of Music, Tom Hayward
Paragon Music Theatre offers up its first ever full production at the Lexington Opera House in the summertime with The Sound of Music, July 30-Aug. 1 and Aug. 6-8. Click the arrows above to see our photos from the show, and click here to read more about the show’s star, Sydney Steele.
Dec22Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Classical Music, Film, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, LexPhil conductor search, Music, Musicals, Opera, Paragon Music Theatre, slide shows, UK; Tagged as: Alan Stein, Alex Parker, Alicia Helm McCorvey, Always Patsy Cline, Arthur Rouse, Brittny Congleton, Cynthia Lawrence, Heather Parrish, It's a Grand Night for Singing, James Archambeault, James W. Rodgers, Jason Epperson, Jason Thompson, Jeffrey Day, Jeremy Gillett, Joe Baber, June July, Kathy Stein, Lexington Children's Theatre's, Lexington Philharmonic, Long Time Travelling, Lower 48, Luther Lewis III, Mei-Ann Chen, Michael Welch, Missy Johnston, Nick Provenzale, Once On This Island, Papa Shakespeare, Reginald Smith Jr., River of Time, Silas House, Studio Players, SummerFest, Tai-Kristin Smedley, Tamera Izlar, The African Company presents Richard III, The City, Twilight, UK Musical and Operetta Organization, UK Opera Theatre, UK Symphony, UK Theatre, Unrequited, Wes Kawaja
This was the second year I spent covering my beat with a camera in my hands a lot of the time. As I said, last year, covering stories as a writer and a photographer is an interesting approach, because you are instinctively trying to match these images to the story you are writing in your head. Or, in the case of slide shows I put together, you are trying to come up with images that tell the story.
Here are some of my favorite shots from 2009 and the stories behind them. Over the holiday weeks, I also encourage you to look out for year end packages from our amazing staff photographers. I know at least one great Lexington arts image is in that group too.
Oct24Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Musicals, Paragon Music Theatre, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Ben Sollee, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, Children's Health magazine, Explorium, Kayoko Dan, Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Larry Snipes, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers' Children's Chorus, Living Arts and Science Center, Nathan Cole, Our Lincoln, Paragon Music Theatre, School for Creative and Performing Arts, Scott Terrell, University of Kentucky, Vivian Snipes
When I moved to Lexington in 1998, one thing that immediately struck me about the local arts scene was the prominence of children and organizations geared toward children.
The Lexington Children’s Theatre’s shows rated the same sort of attention as productions at Actors Guild of Lexington and other area stages.
The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras’ events and personnel moves were prominent news. There were two institutions – the Explorium (then, the Lexington Children’s Museum) and the Living Arts and Science Center – geared toward children’s arts, particularly visual arts.
The School for Creative and Performing Arts had a prominent place in town, but there were stage, art and music programs at other schools also producing talented graduates who went on to arts careers.
Children’s Health magazine recently ranked Lexington No. 6 on its list of the 100 best places to raise a family. The criteria included crime and safety, education, economics, housing, cultural attractions and health.
I’d be willing to bet that if someone wanted to rank best places to be an artsy kid, Lexington would rate high on that list, too. By virtue of what is offered, we tell our children that the arts are something to do and be respected for doing.
The Lexington Philharmonic, the Horse Capitol of the World’s flagship arts organization, will celebrate young artists with its Youth Arts Day family concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts. It will include young singers from SCAPA, Fayette County Public Schools and the School of the Lexington Ballet.
The prominence of youth-oriented groups here is quite a bit more than other communities that I have lived in or observed. Over the nearly 12 years since I arrived, it has become clear that a big reason for that is quality.
Take the Children’s Theatre: In a town that has struggled with the concept of professional theater for adults, the Lexington Children’s Theatre has established itself with its own building on Short Street and a professional staff, including actors. What’s more, Larry and Vivian Snipes have developed a national reputation for the theater by being a venue that presents and creates new work. And the primary beneficiaries are kids.
And it really wasn’t terribly surprising that when the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras went looking for a new music director at the same time that the Lexington Philharmonic was trying to fill a similar job, it ended up attracting and hiring Kayoko Dan, also a candidate for the Philharmonic post.
CKYO has graduated numerous professional musicians, including Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Nathan Cole and hard-to-categorize cello soloist Ben Sollee.
Outside of groups directly geared toward kids, Lexington arts groups have been generous to kids.
Look at Paragon Music Theatre, which routinely loads the stage with kids, including Hello Dolly! this weekend, and even makes a place for them in its cabaret shows.
During years without a professional company, the Lexington Ballet featured its students in productions, and it and Kentucky Ballet Theatre, which has always had a pro troupe, always find ways to present students. Former Ballet Theatre dancer Adalhi Aranda Corn saw such value in Central Kentucky’s young artists she left and formed Bluegrass Youth Ballet and eventually built CulturArte, an arts facility that acommodates a variety of disciplines.
Possibly one of the biggest statements about valuing student artists was when the Lexington Singers’ Children’s Chorus was invited to perform in the Our Lincoln performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington in February.
And now LexArts has formed a Youth Arts Council to help focus young artists in the area.
Full disclosure: My children have participated in some of these groups, and one is in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, although not the ensemble performing Sunday with the Lexington Philharmonic.
In addition, I’ve gotten to know many other kids who participate in groups. Maybe the most important thing these groups engender is enthusiasm for the arts they are participating in. I hear spirited discussions about play rehearsal and genuine interest in Bach sonatas.
Like anything, Lexington’s youth arts scene isn’t perfect. I remain baffled, for instance, why SCAPA does not have a theater of its own. Then again, SCAPA regularly solves that problem by putting its kids on stages usually graced by adults and pros.
It occurred to me as I left a CKYO rehearsal last week with my daughter that by virtue of her participation in the orchestra, she’s on the University of Kentucky campus every week. Most of us didn’t get used to being on a college campus until we had enrolled.
That’s just one of many ways that through our youth arts, regardless of whether the students pursue arts careers, by supporting such substantial programs, we’re preparing our kids for the rest of their lives.
Oct23Filed under: Music, Musicals, Paragon Music Theatre, Theater; Tagged as: Adam Richard Fister, Alicia Helm McCorvey, Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, Evan Pulliam, Greg Wilson, Hello Dolly, Jan Hooker, Jerry Herman, Liz Weyer, Michael Stewart, Paragon Music Theatre, Rebecca Rudd, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Ryan Shirar
If you can walk out of Hello, Dolly! saying, “That was fun,” then mission accomplished.
This is not one of those musicals that are supposed to help you realize deeper truths about life and the human condition or to leave you enraptured by compelling drama. Dolly is a little confection that says we take life a bit too seriously.
And Paragon Music Theatre has accomplished the mission of offering a fun evening with its production of the Jerry Herman-Michael Stewart musical, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Lexington Opera House.
Director Robyn Peterman-Zahn has created a traditional rendition of the show with some impressive set pieces designed by Josh Hurley and backdrops designed by Liz Weyer.
Much of the fun of this evening can be attributed to the leading actors and the men of the ensemble.
Alicia Helm McCorvey is not your Dolly Levi from Central Casting. If your deep desire is an idiosyncratic performance along the lines of Carol Channing or Barbra Streisand, this is not that. Then again, I don’t know who would be the Dolly from Central Casting in Lexington.
When you don’t have that obvious option, the thing to do is give the role to a terrific performer and let her make it her own, which is what McCorvey does.
Her Dolly is wistful, fanciful and maternal. McCorvey’s operatic voice also soars higher than traditional Dollys, presumably with some custom orchestration by music director Ryan Shirar. McCorvey has an instrument that’s different from that of anyone else on stage, but that’s fine, because Dolly is set apart from the rest of the characters.
McCorvey’s voice seemed to provide a particular challenge in the sound department: She frequently overpowered the microphone. If she is going to be miked, she needs to be more smoothly mixed with the other voices.
And there are other great voices on stage. With Dolly, Paragon continues a trend of making discoveries, principally Greg Wilson as Horace Vandergelder, Rebecca Rudd as Irene Molloy and Evan Pulliam as Barnaby Tucker.
Wilson sparks the show to life when leading the men in the ensemble in It Takes a Woman. He naturally steps to the front of the stage and engages the audience, and that is essential to soften Horace’s rough exterior.
Rudd was luminous in her rendition of Ribbons Down My Back. And Pulliam was a bolt of energy, elevating Barnaby above the role of simple sidekick.
This brings up one frustration: the lack of cast biographies in the program. I really wanted to know more about each of these new faces.
The familiar names of Jan Hooker and Adam Richard Fister rounded out the lead ensemble, and whenever any combination of that group was on stage, the show was fine.
It also was in great shape with the men, in Horace’s shop in Act I and as the staff of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in Act II. They had loads of personality and were a collective triple threat. It was in the large ensemble scenes that some of the air came out of the show. The movement felt confused, but the real letdown was a lack of vocal power, particularly in the opening number, Call on Dolly. The Act I closer defied that problem, again with a lot of help from the principals.
And again, the overall sensation was fun, which is exactly what a production of Hello, Dolly! should be.
As promised, here’s the slideshow from the first act of Paragon Music Theatre’s Hello, Dolly! Oct. 22-25 at the Lexington Opera House.
Sep28Filed under: Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, Classical Music, Current Affairs, Discuss, Downtown Arts Center, Kentucky Theatre, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Paragon Music Theatre, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Studio Players, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: Balagula Theatre, Guignol Theatre, Haggin Auditorium, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Quest Community Church, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts
What do you think of Lexington’s inventory of theaters and other venues for live performances?
Currently, leaving aside our behemoth of Rupp Arena, our major arts and entertainment venues are the Singletary Center for the Arts, which seats about 1,500, and the Lexington Opera House, which accomodates just under 1,000. Then, in the seats-a-few-hundred category, you have the black box theater in the Downtown Arts Center, the Lyric Theatre, which is currently being rennovated, and the Kentucky Theatre. There are also venues such as Studio Players’ Carriage House Theatre and the Lexington Children’s Theatre that are almost exclusively used by the groups that occupy them, and University spaces such as the University of Kentucky’s Guignol Theatre and Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium that are primarily used by the institutions.
Am I leaving any Big Kahunas out?
So, is that a good inventory. What do we lack?
Some lament we never got the major performing arts center that was supposed to happen where the courthouses now stand at Main and Limestone. Others say Lexington isn’t ready for a venue of that caliber. Others look at smaller spaces such as the Woodford Theatre’s venue in Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center and wonder why Lexington couldn’t have something like that for groups that may see the Opera House as too big for their needs.
Still others say creativity trumps venues, and point to places such as Charleston, S.C., that have built vibrant performing arts scenes without an ideal inventory of venues. Here, we have examples such as Balagula Theatre at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar and the chamber music festivals that bookend the summer taking place in an old tobacco barn at Shaker Village and Fasig-Tipton’s horse sales pavilion showing a creative use of non-traditional spaces in town.
Here’s another fly I’ll throw in the ointment: I just attended a concert last week in a new, state of the art 2,400-seat Lexington venue that would have been the envy of many area arts groups: Quest Community Church’s new sanctuary. If there is a desire for a new theater or theaters in town, do you need to have public funds to build it, or can the arts community come together to make something happen like, oh, Quest or a little baseball park near Broadway and New Circle that was built with private funds.
That’s sort of a distillation of conversations and thoughts I’ve had over the last several years about Lexington’s theater space.
So, what do you think? Hit the comment button and let’s talk.
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