The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.
Yes, after its 2008 renovation some people might consider the Lexington Opera House’s seats so comfortable they’d like to have one at home. But that’s not what this seat sale is about.
From 2 to 5 p.m. on Aug. 26, folks interested is subscribing to the Opera House’s 7 p.m. Sunday performances of its Broadway Live series can come test drive seats and talk to ticket agents about subscribing to all or part of the 2012-13 season, which includes shows such as Dreamgirls and West Side Story. Subscribers to the Sunday evening series will be able to save as much as 10 to 20 percent on series tickets, depending on seat locations. The discount is only available for Sunday evening shows.
The Opera House added Sunday evening performances to the Broadway Live series in 2008-09, bringing the total number of performances for each show on the schedule to five. The move expanded options and accessibility to the series, which has had numerous sell outs over the years. But Sunday evening has traditionally been a harder sell for performing arts presenters. The Opera House has taken numerous steps to build audiences for the shows with features such as the Arts Appetizer chats at the Horse & Barrel in neighboring Victorian Square.
Sweetening the deal on the 26th will be ice cream sundaes for patrons who come peruse seats. Visitors will also be able to add tickets to two Variety Live presentations, Spencers Theater of Illusion and Motown in Motion, to their ticket purchase. For more information on the sale, call (859) 233-4567, Ext. 3701.
The Bluegrass Operahas announced its next production, which will be a milestone in numerous ways for the contemporary opera troupe.
The Opera will present Pulitzer Prize winner Ernst Bacon’s A Tree on the Plains, a 1942 Opera set in the Great Depression that inspired the producers of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Oklahoma! The opera’s libretto is by fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Horgan.
According to Bluegrass Opera founder and director Lorne Dechtenberg, the company was contacted by Bacon’s estate to see if it would be interested in producing the show. Making that deal even bigger, the Aug. 24 and 25 production will be Bluegrass Opera’s first production at the Lexington Opera House. It will also feature a cast including young professional singers from around the country, and the production will be recorded as the official album of the opera.
“It’s a huge honor for us to produce this piece, and it’s a real coup for the city of Lexington,” Dechtenberg said. He will be the music director of the production, which will be directed by Alice Jones and choreographed by Abby Fowler.
May27Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Theater; Tagged as: 2011-12 season, Beach Boys, Beatles, Carol Channing, Cathy Rigby, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Hello Dolly, In the Heights, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Franklin, Mel Brooks, Peter Pan, Richard F. “Dick” Pardy, Shrek the Musical, The Jersey Boys, The Midtown Men, Tony Award, Vincent Price, Young Frankenstein
The Lexington Opera House has announced what is calls a “monster” 2011-12 season that will simultaneously celebrate two anniversaries: the series’ 35th and the theater’s 125th.
The series was started by Richard F. “Dick” Pardy, who ran the Opera House from its reopening in 1976 until his death in 2000. Early editions leaned heavily on big-name celebrities such as Vincent Price and Carol Channing leading productions of Broadway classics such as Hello Dolly!, with Pardy booking shows when he could get them on the way from one tour stop to another.
The 2011-12 season will have a bit of both of those flavors.
In recent years, Opera House program director Luanne Franklin has standardized weekend dates for shows that are often recent Broadway hits.It opens with a production of Peter Pan, Sept. 23 to 25, featuring Cathy Rigby, 58, in her signature role as the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.
The monsters of the season are Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Nov. 4 to 6, and Shrek the Musical, Feb. 17 to 19. Those shows bookend 2008 Tony Award winner for best musical, In the Heights, Jan. 20 to 22.
“We always want to get the Tony Award winners and biggest hits as soon as we can after they’ve been on Broadway,” said Franklin.
The season will close with four of the primary cast members of the Tony-winning show The Jersey Boys in a production called The Midtown Men, April 27 to 29. The show will feature music by Jersey Boys subject Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as well as the Beatles, Beach Boys and others. Before that will be Come Fly Away (don’t worry if you accidentally call it Come Fly with Me, so have we), March 9 to 11, the show of Frank Sinatra’s music set to choreography by Twyla Tharp.
The main change from the just-completed 2010-11 season will be that family shows, Peter Pan and Shrek, start at 1 p.m. for matinees and 7 p.m. for evening performances.
Franklin said family shows such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast have very successful in recent seasons.
“I don’t try to schedule two family shows in a season,” she said. “But I don’t have any problems doing that if we have the opportunity.”
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.”
Mar14Filed under: Laura Bell Bundy, Lexington Opera House, Musicals, New York, Theater; Tagged as: Andrew Lloyd Webber, best musical, Elle Woods, Jill Halfpenny, Laura Bell Bundy, Legally Blonde -- The Musical, Lexington Opera House, Love Never Dies, Olivier Awards, Reese Witherspoon, Sheridan Smith, Tony Award
Elle Woods had to go from California to New England to get a law degree, but she had to go all the way to England itself to get some theatrical award love.
Legally Blonde – The Musical, the show that opened on Broadway in 2007 with Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy in the lead, netted three big prizes in the Olivier Awards, England’s equivalent of the Tonys. It won for best musical, beating out Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest, Love Never Dies, best actress in a musical for star Sheridan Smith and best supporting actress in a musical for Jill Halfpenny – does that sound like a Bond Girl name or what? – who played Elle’s hairdresser gal pal Paulette.
Of Blonde‘s British reception, Associated Press reporter Jill Lawless wrote, “The story of a California girl who proves her mettle at Harvard Law School – based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie – received lukewarm reviews on Broadway and closed in October 2008 after 595 performances. But London’s often curmudgeonly critics greeted it as a burst of sunshine in the rainy West End when it opened here in January 2010.”
Bundy was nominated for a Tony Award for best actress in a musical for the Broadway production and the show received six other nominations, though not for best musical, and it didn’t win any Tonys. A national tour of the show comes to the Lexington Opera House April 15-17.
Mar7Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, dance, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Frankin, rain, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, sellout, Singletary Center for the Arts, sold out, University of Kentucky basketball
Last week at le blog and in Sunday’s Herald-Leader, I wrote about the recent wave of sellouts at Lexington venues, including three shows over the weekend – Jason Aldean at Rupp Arena, Itzhak Perlman at the Singletary Center, and the Beatles show Rain at the Lexington Opera House.
That raised some questions in a couple different ways, in part because empty seats were spotted at some shows we mentioned, and because of disparities in the numbers of patrons at “sold out” shows, particularly in Rupp Arena.
So what constitutes a sell out, and does it necessarily mean absolutely no seats are left?
In the case of Perlman, it did mean all tickets were gone, but generally the answer depends on a number of things.
Obviously, the first reason why we sometimes see empty seats at sold out shows is people don’t show up. Yes, it seems bizarre that someone would pay significant money to see a show and then not attend, but it happens for a variety of reasons.
Second is that sellout does not necessarily mean every seat has been sold. Read the rest of this entry »
Mar3Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, Current Affairs, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: 42nd Street, Carl Hall, Cats, Chris Isaak, Emmylou Harris, Gustavo Dudamel, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Kathy Griffin, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Franklin, Michael Grice, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Norton Center for the Arts, Porgy and Bess, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steve Martin, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic
The afternoon of Feb. 6, I was standing in line at the Singletary Center for the Arts box office behind a handsomely dressed couple that looked like they had just come from church to see the final performance of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess.
When it was their turn to be served, the man held out his credit card, and the ticket agent said, “I’m sorry. This performance is sold out.”Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown as Bess in the sold-out Feb. 6 performance of the UK Opera Theatre production of “Porgy and Bess.” Photo by Tim Collins for UK Opera Theatre.
That’s become a more common occurrence at Lexington-area shows recently. Just this weekend, Rupp Arena presents a sold-out performance by country star Jason Aldean Friday night, the Lexington Opera House hosts two sold-out performances by theBeatles tribute show Rain and Saturday night’s concert by violin legend Itzhak Perlman and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is so sold out even people who know people couldn’t get tickets.
This follows recent sold-out or near sold-out shows at those venues by artists such as pop star Chris Isaak, comedian Kathy Griffin, the touring production of Spamalot! and country stars Rascal Flatts, Rupp’s first non-UK basketball sell-out of 2011.
So, is the sell out back? Is a recovering economy starting to show up at the box office?
Well yes and no, venue directors say.
Yes, things do seem to be better than they were in the depths of the great recession in 2008 and ‘09. They also see other factors from a string of very popular acts to a pure desire on consumers’ parts to go have fun to ticket prices coming back to earth.
Feb1Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, Eastern Kentucky University, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky Univ, Centre College, Debra Hoskins, George Foreman, Katherine Eckstrand, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Franklin, Michael Grice, Norton Center for the Arts, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steven A. Hoffman
I am not aware of any historic rivalry between Centre College and Eastern Kentucky University. But it seems like one fired up on Monday morning, when EKU announced Debra Hoskins, the former assistant director at Centre’s Norton Center for the Arts, will run the new Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University.
Here’s the backstory on this move: Hoskins served for nearly two decades as the program and public relations director at the Norton Center before being promoted to assistant director late in her tenure. Over those years, she worked closely with center director George Foreman to bring an astonishing list of performers to the small liberal arts college in the small Kentucky town of Danville. The guest list included the Boston Pops, Kathleen Battle, Dolly Parton and many, many more.
In 2009, Foreman accepted a position as the director of the performing arts centers at the University of Georgia. Hoskins threw her hat in the ring for the director’s job at the Norton Center, but officials chose to bring in Steven A. Hoffman, a well traveled venue director whose last gig was the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif.
Despite his credentials, many of Hoskins’ ardent supporters saw this as an insult to a woman who, just days before Hoffman’s appointment was announced, had announced she had booked the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel for an unprecedented concert at the Norton Center last September.
Hoskins stayed on for a while, but departed the Norton Center in December saying it was time to move on.
Turns out, she moved about 35 miles east.
At the same time Hoskins was leaving Centre, the original director of EKU’s center, Katherine Eckstrand, announced she was leaving to tend to family medical issues in Ohio, opening the door for Hoskins to lead the new facility at what happens to be her alma mater.
Do we have to spell out the forming rivalry out anymore?
Well, at Monday morning’s announcement, some university and public officials did. Madison County judge executive Kent Clark couldn’t help but invoke the word “stupid” in describing Centre’s decision to let Hoskins go.
For her own part, Hoskins did not express any animosity toward her former employer. Read the rest of this entry »
The University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Dec. 21 and 22 presentation of Thomas Pasatieri’s God Bless Us Everyone at the Lexington Opera House has been cancelled.
The show, which is the world-premier production of the new opera by the writer of Hotel Casablanca, was set up as a co-production by DiCapo Opera Theatre of New York and UK Opera Theatre. The opera picks up the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol after Scrooge’s epiphany and merry Christmas with the Cratchits and brings it to the Civil War-era United States. The cast includes performers from New York and UK, and it will open as scheduled Dec. 16 to 19 in New York, with UK singers on the stage, including Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, Julie LaDouceur and Nicholas Provenzale. UK Symphony director John Nardolillo will conduct.
UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said via e-mail that the expense of sending the UK singers and orchestra to New York and bringing the production back to Lexington exceeded original expectations. That plus slow ticket sales, prompted the decision to cancel the Kentucky performances.
“The show is very exciting and the students in New York are having a tremendous experience, but ticket sales in Lexington have been lagging,” McCorvey wrote.
He said people who bought tickets have been contacted, and he hopes to eventually present the opera in Lexington on a future season.
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