Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fiddler on the Roof by Landmark Musicals at Rodey Hall

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show and raising the roof with cheers, "Fiddler on the Roof" by Landmark Musicals premiered to an appreciative house at Rodey Hall on UNM campus, auspiciously opening on the night of Purim (a festive Jewish holiday) and playing until March 30th. Directed and choreographed by Gary John La Rosa, the atmosphere for the show began before the actors' appearance with the magnificent Marc Chagall-inspired curtain, featuring "The Fiddler," from which the musical takes inspiration for its name and masterfully created by the company's production designer, Dahl Delu.

Central to the plot, Michael Finnegan magnificently embodies the patriarch Tevye, a man who dreams big and lives humbly as a part of the Jewish community, Anatevka. As any good and devout Russian, he lives his life by "Tradition," the village's rousing opening act, but we also see that he is a dreamer as well, in his memorable solo, "If I Were A Rich Man." Balancing his bravado is his wife Golde, who rules at times with an iron fist. Played by Lorri Oliver who brings a tremendously strong voice and character to the role, Golde gives solid ground to the dreamer she is married to, and the backbone needed to discipline their five girls: Tzeitel (Elise Mouchet), Hodel (Daniela Deuel), Chava (Adrianna Deuel), Shprintze (Cristina Deuel) and Bielke (Riley Martin).

Courtesy of Landmark & Kyle Zimmerman Photography
The dilemma of how to best marry off his progeny begins as we see the girls dreaming of love in "Matchmaker," with clever choreography catching their skidding mops. More inventive choreography was rousingly met in the "Bottle Dance," near the end of act one. Matthew Amend, Zane Barker, Justin Ray Cordova, and Luke Loffelmacher give a hair raising performance as we watch the bottles teeter (no tricks! no gimmicks!) and yet triumphantly remain atop the dancers' heads.

The plot revolves around the dynamics between the young couples, as the revolutionary and contrary ideas of the young begin to supersede the elder's established ways. Tzeitel and Motel (Max Woltman) break with the tradition of an arranged marriage, choosing their love to each other. Woltman's gentle tailor gave the audience plenty of laughs, especially when playing against Finnegan, endearing the young couple as they fight for their love.

Courtesy of Landmark & Kyle Zimmerman Photography
The bookish Hodel and Perchik, the forward-thinking student from Kiev (Julian Singer Corbin), press tradition even further as they too arrange their intention to marry. Tevye, with much pondering where he breaks the fourth wall and charmingly addresses us even as he is addressing himself, eventually gives his blessing. But it is young Chava and Fyedka (Harrison Wirstrom) who bring an even greater challenge for Tevye to reconcile, even as his world changes for good.

Courtesy of Landmark & Kyle Zimmerman Photography
The beliefs and customs of a Jewish rural community under the Tsar are integral to understanding the show. In "The Dream" sequence, we see how the superstitions of the people are intermingled in their decisions, with special mention to Wendy Barker who gives a wonderful performance as the ghost of Fruma Sarah, Lazar's late wife, and catching the audience up in the supernatural fun. Throughout both acts the company's mutually strong vocal performance, overseen by musical director Andrew Alegria, was as consistent together as it is in their solos and duets. Two additional strong characters who shine in this show include Lazar (Vernon Reza) and Yente (Kathy Mille Wimmer), both delighting the audience in their moments as well.

With live music to enjoy, this production meets the high standards Landmark Musicals is known for, and delivers an evening of heartfelt fun for all. To get tickets in advance, visit or call the box office at 505.925.5858. And for more information about Landmark's season, you can visit the company's website at

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Duke City Repertory Theatre at the Cell

Springtime is almost here, and it's a time for lovers, mischief and laughter! Celebrating the upcoming April birthday of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, Duke City Repertory Theatre presents, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Cell Theatre and playing until March 16th, where there are definitely lovers, faeries (which means mischief) and the laughter? It couldn't be contained.

An adaptation of the original, the play is presented in all its Shakespearean glory, with the actors staying true to the language and the comedy of errors' plot line of misaligned lovers who have fallen victim to faery pranks. Most interestingly, all 19 parts are played by only 7 actors, who change costume and identities but never lose us along the way as this classic's comic twists unfold.

As Hippolyta and Theseus, Amelia Ampuero and Frank Taylor Green transform themselves from the nobles of the human world who prepare for their wedding, into Faerie nobility, the disgruntled King Oberon and his estranged Queen Titania. Around them we see the four lovers who fall victim to the faeries' otherworldly shenanigans, Hermia and Lysander (Lauren Myers, Ezra Colon) & Demetrius and Helena (Josh Heard, Katie Becker Colon), all due to Puck's interference. Under Oberon's orders, Puck mistakenly enchants the wrong humans while seeking to help his master, and manages to get his Lady Titania in a very embarrassing situation with a lovable donkey (also Ezra Colon) as well.

Evening Star Barron brings a new flavor of Puck to the show, with all the impish delight we usually associate the character with, as well as a maturity that comes later, giving Puck a chance to grow up and become more reflective by the story's end. "Lord, what fools these mortals be," Puck declares, and rightly so. Adapted and directed by John Hardy, audiences today may not know a Shakespearean couplet when they hear one, and they may not know they were the signal to an Elizabethan audience that a character's exit is about to occur, but for the English majors (c'est moi) and dramatic buffs in the crowd, we were happy that Hardy handled the text with love and care, and that the actors delve into the language of the show, and deliver layers of meaning behind the Bard's words.

In between the confusion of lovers and faeries there are the actors, the most terrible actors, who are to present their dramatic work at the wedding. Is there anything so funny as good actors portraying realllly bad actors? Completely engrossed in their "art," these players present their tale in the second half and worked the audience from chuckles and guffaws, to bellows of laughter. The moments at the chink in the "wall" between Colon, Heard and Green are truly gems in this piece and are sure to remind you this was a comedy Shakespeare wrote, and not just because it has a happy ending.

To get yourself over to see the humans playing as faeries, and the faeries playing with humans, visit their website for tickets at or you can call the Cell Theatre box office at 505.766.9412. Advance tickets are always recommended for smaller houses, lest the faeries make merry with your seat and you find yourself left out of the fun.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cats at the Albuquerque Little Theatre

The magic begins the moment you arrive at Albuquerque Little Theatre, where human-sized theatre cats are prowling the grounds, and taking to the stage to present the musical "Cats," playing until March 23. Watch your feet as you enter the lobby and find your seats, they're as prevalent as the smiles on the patrons' faces and they don't seem too terribly camera shy, but only before the show begins. Once you're in your seat, keep an eye out for the aisles, corners, balconies and crevices, as the cats playfully break the fourth wall, interacting with the audience until the show begins (and sometimes after too)!

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the story is based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a series of poems by T.S. Eliot which follow the stories of many different cats, together known as the Jellicle Cats. We discover the inner workings of their feline society, with Munkustrap acting often as a narrator, played lovingly by Larry Joseph Aguilar. Steering our attention from story to story, beginning with the entire company's hypnotic chant, "The Naming of Cats," the story moves into individuals' tales, such as the delightful Jennyanydots, played with playful vigor by Shirley Roach, despite being a cat that "sits and sits and sits all day." The upbeat tap dancing number shows off co-choreographers Edye Allen and Stephanie Burch's mutual talents, and is one of many dance forms (tap, ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, even Irish step dance) that flow into and out of the stories throughout the show.

"The Rum Tum Tugger" burst into his scene with sass as the most fickle of felines. As Marcus Robinson's ALT debut, he makes a big impression while bringing a sense of entitled elegance, slinking across the stage with liquid body rolls and sinuous choreography while giving us the essence of the rebel that Rum Tum Tugger is written to be. In the second act, Tugger reappears for another energetic performance for "Magical Mister Mistoffelees." The cats, we discover, follow their leader Old Deuteronomy (Jack Litherland), who has lived many lives and "buried nine wives," and tonight he will decide which of their kind will be allowed to go to the Heavyside, a decision and privilege which the cats regard with awe.

But it is "Grizabella, the Glamour Cat," a faded star who is now shunned by the others, a pariah even amongst her own cat kind, whose story we follow most frequently. Although she only appears onstage three times, Grizabella's story provides an arch through both acts, reminding us that sometimes a cat really can have a new life, even those cats who believe their time is over. Played by Dawn Durkin, whose rock and roll voice plays through Grizabella's tale perfectly, this role requires an actor who can evoke the most painful reminiscences without falling into pathos. By the second act, when Grizabella's modern standard, "Memory," is sung through, I had literal tears falling into my lap. The song, done wrong, is schmaltz. Done right? It is evocative and reminds the listener of the dreams we all once had, dreams that now seem buried and gone.

Other cats made sparkling impressions, such as the irrepressible duo, Mungojerrie (Estevan Velasco) and Rumpleteazer (Kianah Stover), whose sticky-fingered mischief together is playfully aggressive and quite acrobatic, like kittens on the prowl. Stevie Nichols, as Demeter, swishes into her number, "Macavity: the mystery cat," with breathy, sultry delight as her Fosse-esque choreography slides across the stage with seductive ease.

With strong company vocals heard in numbers like "Journey to the Heavyside," the cast works together as powerfully as they do in their solos. But the dance ability required in a musical such as this requires special mention, with cast members who must use their bodies both to tell their stories, and to give their choreography the cat-like grace called for. Erin Allen as Victoria, and Michael Maldonado as Mistoffelees, excelled in their dance moments onstage, giving artistry to the show's pop. As a whole, the choreography is woven into and out of the entirety of the show, with dance breaks that vary from solos, small groups, a lyrical pas de deux, or even raucous ensemble numbers, such as "The Jellicle Ball" and "Macavity Fight." And, if ever there was a show that deserves tombee pas de bouree glissade pas de chat? It's this one, and a wink to the audience in the know.

Directed by TJ Bowlin, the show serves as an excellent example as to why so many love this musical so passionately; it delights the eye and the imagination, bending our view of reality as theatre is meant to do. Although over time Weber's score can sometimes sound dated with its '80s synthesizer sounds, the show delivers a knockout one-two punch of strong performers transformed into something magical and otherworldly. To find out if "Cats" will make a cat lover out of you, visit their website at to purchase tickets online, or call 505.242.4750.