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theatre reviews

A M B U S H  M A G  2 0 0 0   -   V O L U M E  1 5   -   I S S U E  2

Trodding the Boards.GIF


The Saenger Broadway Series recently presented Ira Levin's 1970's comedy thriller Deathtrap, starring Elliott Gould and Mariette Hartley. Ms. Hartley did not appear due to a gastrointestinal disorder which had kept her out of the touring pre-Broadway production for two weeks prior to the New Orleans engagement. Her absence was not detrimental to the evening's entertainment, which was quite satisfying. Even after a succesful film adaptation (starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon) and at least three local productions in the last 15 years, the large audience reacted to all the twists and turns as if viewing it for the first time.

Indeed, director John Tillinger, with ample collusion from set designer James Noone, has given us a new and sanatized version of Ira Levin's clockwork toy of a play. No longer is there even a whisp of a homosexual relation between Sidney Bruhl (Elliott Gould), the has-been Broadway playwright, and the young, studly budding playwright (a hunky Douglas Wert) he has brought into his sprawling Connecticut country home (a converted barn festooned with framed show cards from his past Broadway endeavors and all manner of antique murder weapons, some of which are involved in the play's convoluted plot).

I will not venture to outline this plot since that would give away the whole raison d'etre of the piece. Suffice it to say that the wife appears in only the first act and, as played by Ms. Hartley's understudy, Alexandra O'Karma, she is completely believeable. In fact, Ms. O'Karma's whippet waifishness contributes mightily to the veracity of her character's cardiac complications.

Elliott Gould's laid-back, rumpled-shirt turn is wonderfully contrasted with Mr. Wert's more animated and energized performance. Their relationship is, in this production, predicated only upon bald ambition and mental acuity in their ever-mounting game of oneupmanship. As staged by Mr. Tillinger this game is always fascinating.

Marilyn Cooper, a Tony winner for Woman of the Year, plays the comic psychic Helga Ten Dorp with Broadway panache, and Doug Stender's Porter Milgram, Sidney's lawyer, is properly self-satisfied and smug. In short, this is an excellent production of a 70's popular hit.

The Wiz was an unexpected hit musical of the late 70's after 20th Century Fox rushed in with much needed capital to keep it going until its word-of-mouth let it catch on with the theatre-going public. A reworking of The Wizard of Oz by William F. Brown (book) and Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) which colorizes the L. Frank Baum children's classic, The Wiz transposes an African American sensibility upon this almost Victorian story of innocence triumphant with jazzy music and a certain "ebonical" spin on the dialogue.

The Wiz turns out to be a perfect show for Ty Tracy's NORD Theatre, giving almost 60 youngsters an opportunity to shine - and shine they do.

Bob Bruce's incredible feat of costuming all these enthusiastic thespians is perfectly matched with Mr. Tracy's indefatigable directorial expertise - not only have both men succeeded in mounting such a huge show - just getting it up and together had to have been a Sysphian task - but they have done it with style and rich detail, so that their combined efforts make this a satisfying theatrical event. And all those costumes give it all the eyewash it needs, even without sets or set pieces or props to speak of. Gloria C. Fallo's musical direction is amply abetted by Yolanda Carter's vocal direction (Fallo's whispy-thin piano and percussion accompaniement is volubly augmented by Carter's off-stage choir).

Mr. Tracy is also well served by the excellent cast he has collected and directed with such frisky frivolity. Rahsaana gives her character so much positive energy there is never a doubt that she will find her way back home and, like Judy Garland who originated the role, she does honor to the jazzy, unmelodic Charlie Smalls songs. She is ably assisted by the three sidekicks she picks up along the yellow brick road on the way to the Emerald City and her meeting with the Wiz: Joshua Powell's double-jointed juantiness and rubber faced scarecrow, Mitch McMurren's jivin', happy-go-lucky tinman and Alex Reed's overgrown Ewok of a lion whose lack of courage makes him absolutely "Lahrvly." Kudos and kisses must be blown to Oshuntaye Akinlana's Addaperle, the good witch, and especially Yolanda Carter's Evillene, the BIG bad witch with the big "bad" voice.

Leo Jones' choreography is also a delight - these kids have his moves down pat and sassy and his Wiz is also brimming with character and empathy for all his bravado.

Another example of African American cultural activity was on display recently at the Mahlia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts when the New Orleans Ballet Association presented the Philadelphia Dance Company, called acronymically Philadanco, for one evening performance and several day performances for school children.

The program this company chose to present to New Orleans was more African-American folkloric than classical, or "modern" in its style and choice of music.

Of the three dances presented, "The Walkin', Talkin', Signifying Blues Hips, Lowdown Throwdown" with a Reggae percussive score by Junior "Gaba" Wedderburn and choreography by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (who founded Urban Bush Women) was the clear audience favorite centering, as it does, on the derrieres of seven female dancers, who shake their "booty" in four ( rastafarian) movements, with Hope Boykin's solo being the highpoint.

The final offering, "Pretty is Skin Deep, Ugly is to the Bone," with choreography by Talley Beatty set to music by Earth, Wind & Fire, Natalie Cole and Quincy Jones, found the entire company of 14 illuminating various aspects of life in the ghetto in luminously beautiful costumes designed by A. Christina Giannini. The highpoint of this ensemble dance was "Ghettoscape with Ladder," in which Desiree Lynn Pina danced and did vaudevillian gymnastics on a ladder.

The opening dance, "Bamm," choreographed by Donald Byrd and also costumed by Giannini, while being the most accessible (modern) dance, was, in the end, repetitive and derivitive with the men dominating, and even abusing the women - very disturbing.

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