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theatre reviews

Volume 15/Issue 21

Trodding the Boards.GIF


T here is nothing more invigorating, life-affirming or cathartic than witnessing theatrical perfection. Over the past fortnight this reviewer had the good fortune to experience this all too illusive happening-not once but twice!

The Saenger Theatre began its MasterCard Broadway Series with Smokey Joe's Cafe--The Songs Of Lieber And Stoller in a first-class production that was sent into outer orbit by guest star B. J. Crosby, the mainstay and Tony nominated star of the original Broadway production and a New Orleans native who left the three-year-old New York company to appear with the tour only in New Orleans. What a treat!

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are two New York natives who have been composing hit rock and roll and blues songs for forty-five years and have amassed a body of work that is truly prodigious and inherently theatrical. Director Jerry Zaks has taken the original concept for this show by Stephen Helper and Jack Viertel (also one of the producers) and, with the invaluable contributions of orchestrator Steve Margoshes and vocal arrangers Louis St. Louis and Chapman Roberts, has created a unique theatrical cabaret show that goes way beyond the "and then they wrote" presentational style of most such musical anthologies. With no more than four lines of dialogue, the songs themselves, and their incredibly clever lyrics set the time-the fifties, the mood-carefree adolescence-and the place-Brooklyn, NY by grouping them and meshing them in a dynamic, constantly moving way with the help of designer Heidi Ettinger's airy scrim-covered flats that move across stage like a film wipe.

The cast, no doubt energized by the confident and warmly received B.J. Crosby, are all exceptional triple-threat performers, singing, dancing and clowning with unstoppable panache. Scott Beck, Kim Cea, Dwayne Clark, Eugene Fleming, Mary Ann Hermansen, Jeffrey Polk, Reva Rice and Stephonne Smith render these forty songs, which range the gamut from doo-wop to campy comedy to soul-stirring gospel to gut-wrenching rhythm & blues to cabaret and pop (in Mr. Zak's upbeat direction augmented by Joey McKneely's fresh choreography), with consummate theatrical punch.

Among the musical highlights in this cornucopia of musical gems originally written for such groups as the Coasters, the Drifters, the Dixie Cups, Ben E. King, Elvis Prestley, Peggy Lee, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and Dion, among countless others, are B.J.'s "Saved," "Kansas City" and "Hound Dog", a beautiful pas de deux dream ballet to "Spanish Harlem" by Reva Price and Eugene Fleming, all the quartet work by Jeffrey Polk, Dwayne Clark, Eugene Fleming & Stephonne Smith ("Young Blood," "Keep On Rollin'," "Searchin'," "On Broadway," "Little Egypt," "There Goes My Baby" & "Love Potion #9") and the fabulous blonde belting of Kim Cea on "I Keep Forgettin'" and "Pearl's A Singer."

But what this show illustrates most evocatively is the fact that but for the right book, the team of Stoller and Leiber could have become, easily, ace Broadway musical comedy writers. With Mr. Zaks' deft creativity, they've finally arrived where they always belonged.

Jose Limon, a Mexican-American dancer influenced and mentored by Doris Humphrey who was herself mentored by Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, created his own modern dance company in 1946 and with it brought the male modern dancer up to a par with the females-and beyond. Even though he died in 1972, his company is still going strong and proved their viability in their recent one night stand at the Theatre of the Performing Arts as the season opener for the New Orleans Ballet Association.

This presentation also marked the departure of the organization's much loved and respected Executive Director, Jon H. Teeuwissen who, for the last 8 years, has guided the Association with grace, wit, charm and an uncanny business savvy that has brought the Association into the black. He leaves the New Orleans Ballet Association owing no one and New Orleans audiences much more knowledgeable about dance-modern dance especially. The Association, on the other hand, owes him a great deal. His successor, Jeffrey J. Bentley, from Seattle, has big shoes to fill.

The Jose Limon Dance Company reflects Mr. Teeuwissen's taste to a tee and the presentation offered was two ballets by Mr. Limon himself that are now rarely performed, "The Winged," choreographed in 1966 (originally presented sans music but here swathed in avian melody by composer Jon Magnussen in 1995), and "Missa Brevis," circa 1958, a metaphorical staging of the Catholic Mass to music by Zoltan Kodaly.

The company of 18 acquitted themselves to perfection-especially in the opener, "The Winged," which illustrated various aspects of the avian kingdom from dawn, or the beginning of bird life, to the end of day. In between, the dance flowed seamlessly with solos, duets, trios and quartets of endlessly inventive choreographic creativity made bouyant by Jon Magnussen's ethereal score. "Missa Brevis," on the other hand, had a more Martha Graham/Agnes DeMille tinge, with a narrator/preacher (Carlos Orta) directing his devout parishioners, outside the ring, as they move through the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Crucifixus, etc. in front of a back drop, by Ming Cho Lee, of the skeletal remains of a Gothic cathedral. A true religious experience.

Uncle" Wayne Daigrepont has been entertaining New Orleans audiences, of all ages, for ages, and has now struck real potential pay-dirt with his new act, Anne and Uncle Wayne, now playing Sundays in Oct at 7pm. at True Brew Cabaret on Julia St.

Anne is Anne Decareaux, a seasoned singer, having begun performing on the nightclub circuit in the 60's in her native New Jersey. A New Orleanian since 1972, she has acquired a classic Cajun wit that meshes effortlessly with the outrageousness of Mr. Daigrepont, who serves as her accompanist and straight man. The duo regales the audience with naughty bawdy lyrics set to old standards ("Sittin' In A Bar"for "Swingin' On A Star," "Thanks For The Mammaries," "Brassiere" for "Brazil," "I'll Be Suing You") with a quick-witted repartee between them both and the audience. Ms. Decareaux reminded this reviewer more than once of such cabaret comediennes as Marsha Lewis and Chicago's Pudgy, especially the way she involves her audience (removing one man's toupee, applauding her roommate Amanda Hebert ironically ("Thanks For The Mammaries") and awarding smart ass answers to her smart ass queries with mints, all the while being expertly underscored by Uncle Wayne's pianistic expertise.

Even though the pace of this act is fast, it is augmented with two ballads, Wayne's "Song In the Sand" from La Cage Aux Folles and Anne's touching rendition of Gershwin's "Embraceable You." At one point the microphone was turned over to Loyce Adams, a member of the audience who jazzed up the proceedings with a rousing "Bill Bailey." Don't miss Uncle Wayne and Anne-they're guaranteed to put a happy smile on your face.

Black Box Theater Unveils Goins Play
by Brad Benedict

W ithin the Realm came to the Black Box Theater in Coates Hall on the Louisiana State University campus, and it was an excellent play with a cast that made it all come together in fine fashion. Written and directed by talented playwright Darren Goins, this play ran the gamut of emotions. In fact, it was a study in human emotions and a very good one.

The play began its journey into theaters back in 1994 as an Honors thesis at Emory University. Written as a series of narratives, the script explored the notion that intolerance is an identity-forming experience. In the process, some people endure while others are destroyed. The few who rise to the challenge often show their tormentors that hatred and stupidity are the only things which cannot be tolerated. Goins shows in his play how sexism, racism, homophobia and discrimination based on appearance are unique forms of hatred. His purpose is to show how all of us face intolerance in one form or another. This comes through remarkably well as his cast brings these characters to life with grade A perfection.

The author has shown much of himself in this play, but it is a show of wisdom far beyond his young years. Having grown up in Jacksonville, FL, he addresses the issues that hit close to home yet are a part of the society as we all know it.

The play is actually six different stories with each having the same underlying theme. All of the players do not intermix. Therefore, even though they share the same stage, they remain separate but equal in importance.

Within the Realm was a production of the Department of Speech Communications' Performance Studies program and starred nine undergraduate students: Susan D. Callahan, Ishuia J. Credit, C. Chris Euculano, Mandy C. Foster, Jacqueline A. Goff, Todd Henry, Ryan Patrick Lamy, Jamie Swartz, and Terrence Tucker. Their fields of study, ranging from accounting, philosophy, landscape architecture, turf grass management, mass communications and theater are as varied as the subjects they presented on stage.

All proceeds for the event benefited the Black Box.

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