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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  7

Trodding the Boards.GIF


The New Orleans Ballet Association continued its season recently with a real rarity, a story ballet, The Secret Garden, to wit. And even though this is a newly minted work by the Oakland Ballet, it has all the craft and patina of a classical ballet.

Created by Ronn Guidi, the Founding Artistic Director of this large, classically trained company, this balletic retelling of the Frances Hodgson Burnett children's classic printed in 1911 is set most comfortably to numerous musical compositions by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar. This choice of music works admirably and Mr. Guidi has fashioned many dances and pantomimic sequences with just the right amount of theatrical savvy as to make the story very easy to follow, even for the youngest of his enraptured audience.

Mr. Guidi's cast is also up to the task at hand, with the Mary Lennox of Abra Rudisill leading this cast of excellent dancer/actors. As Mary Lennox goes from petulant, pigtailed orphan in darkest India to unloved ward in Uncle Archibald's frigid manor where she learns to love and be loved, and thus brings a barren household to glorious flower, she is ably abetted by the Colin of Nephi Sanchez, the Dickon of Ben Barnhart, Maureen Sullivan's Martha, and Michael Lowe's Ben Weatherstaff.

Mr. Guidi saved his most lyrical dances for the lovelorn Uncle Archibald and his deceased but imagined wife, Lilias. As danced by Joral Schmalle and Lara Deans Lowe, theirs is an achingly sorrowful pas de deux with one of several magical directorial flourishes when Lilias' portrait comes to life.

A willful flower pot that refuses to stay on its shelf, Mary's jump rope, dancing hoes and rakes, a bevy of dancing candlebra that imaginatively proscribe the endless halls of Mary's prison manor, and a huge sheet of red China silk floating from the flies representing the cholera epidemic that robs Mary of her mother and father which begins her odyssey from darkest India to cold and barren England are other wonderful theatrical inventions of Mr. Guidi.

Set Designer Dan Dugan has invested this production with richly detailed set pieces and airy, meticulously painted scrim drops (the garden itself is so Maxfield Parish golden it elicits a gasp from the audience) which are sensitively lit by lighting designer Robert Klemm and Costume Designer Ariel has solved all the many costume requirements with wit and a rich, tiedye quality.

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival must have been a success, judging from the two theatrical offerings this critic attended until a sprained ankle intervened.

The Two Character Play, presented by Deep Ellum Ensemble, a New York based theater troupe, which occupied the comfy Maxwell's Toulouse Cabaret, was one of Williams' most problematic endeavors. Originally written in 1967, it was rewritten for an ill-fated Broadway production starring Michael York in 1973 retitled Outcry (which this reviewer had the misfortune of attending in a pre-Broadway performance at the Kennedy Center) and then re-rewritten as the present incarnation.

As directed by Matthew Earnest and performed with consummate zeal by Trae Hicks as Felice, an actor/writer/director and Helena Prince as his actress/writer sister Clare, this exercise in dramatic futility, while exasperating in its lack of an easily discernible plot, is nevertheless noteworthy for its resonating autobiographical utterances-a rose in the carpet that seems to be on fire (allusion to Williams' institutionalized sister) and the peculiar introduction of the ultimate plot-resolving devise, a gun, which cannot be fired, thus saving the one major character from self-oblivion - the one major character being the writer himself, as portrayed by these two sides of the same coin.

The major theatrical offering of this edition of the Tennessee Williams Festival, presented by the Producers Circle and the Tennessee Williams/Literary Festival was Three Mortal Ladies Possessed, based on the works by Williams, Truman Capote and Eudora Welty, adapted and directed by Ricky Graham.

Set in a morris chaired writing room, with bar and manual typewriter, the three writers are portrayed by local actors made up to resemble them. Each writer presents, or rather recites, a short story from his or her canon that reflects, in some way, the Southern Lady. Michael Bennett is an easily caricatured Truman Capote reciting "Children on Their Birthdays," Yvette Hargis does Eudora Welty racing through "Why I live at the P.O.," with her mellow Mississippi accent intact, and Rene Piazza portrays a rather corpulent Williams reciting "Miss Coynte of Green."

All three actors were excellent in their individual roles and were carefully rehearsed to read from manuscripts quickly discarded.

The only problem with this exercise is the inherent untheatricality of stories written for another medium. There is no theatrical energy in third person stories relating actions that have already past. It was to everyone's credit that this fare entertained the full Le Petit Theater audience.

ASIDE: In a recent review of Lillian presented by Southern Repertory Theater, I was somewhat hard on the theater's program. Not only had they left out the author's name, but they also neglected the taped voice-overs in the play's denouement scene recreating Hellman's HUAC interrogation, I proclaimed, rather pompously.

Well, the actors whose voices were used WERE in the program, craftily hidden under "Acknowlegments." They were: Phil Karnell, Ron Gural, Paul Schierhorn and the Chief of the Critic Police, Michael Cahill. So sorry.

The new 1997-1998 MasterCard Broadway Series at the Saenger will feature five of Broadway's hottest musicals plus a non-subscription special return of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera.

Smokey Joe's Cafe - The Songs of Lieber and Stoller opens the season Sept. 30-oct. 5, 1997. Directed by Jerry Zaks with sets by Heidi Landesman and costumes by William Ivey Long, this Tony Award-winning musical review recreates the 50's & 60's hit parade with songs like Hound Dog, Love Potion #9, Stand By Me, Yakety Yak, There Goes My Baby, On Broadway and Jailhouse Rock which were recorded by such groups as The Coasters, The Drifters, Peggy Lee and Elvis.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's movie musical State Fair gets a theatrical retread and stars John Davidson in the role of Abel Frake, which he created in the shortlived Broadway production of this musical about the Texas State Fair that boasts the songs "It Might As Well Be Spring," and "It's A Grand Night For Singing."

Leapin' Lizards! Annie returns Feb. 3-8, 1998. Winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical and Musical Score of a musical. The book is by Thomas Meehan; music, by Charles Strouse; and lyrics, by Martin Charnin.

The current Broadway smash hit, Chicago, will also make it to New Orleans although exact dates are yet to be determined, followed by the musical version of the movie Big written by John Weidman with music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. Big will take over the Saenger May 12-17, 1998.

After an unprecedented eight week run last year, The Phantom Of The Opera will swoop down on us once again as a non-subscription extra when it takes over the Saenger for the Christmas season, staking out four weeks from Dec. 17 through January 11.

For subscriptions, individual tickets or more information, call the Season Subscription Center at 800.218.SHOW (7469).

AUDITIONS: The Rivertown Repertory Theater will hold auditions for the musical comedy production of Promises, Promises on Saturday, Apr. 5 & Sun., Apr. 6 at 1 pm. Both sessions are singing and dancing auditions. Readings will be held at callbacks. Director Ken Risch is interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers aged 20 to 60 years. All auditioners are required to bring a resume and a prepared song. An accompanist will be provided.

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