Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Les Miserables at the Albuquerque Little Theatre

"Les Miserables" is one of my favorite musicals of all time -- I've seen it live over half a dozen times, including the 1990 Broadway touring cast, the 1991 cast in residence in London, as well as numerous other tours... I remember the revolving stage (no longer in use, and I miss it still). Admittedly, I'm a self confessed "Les Mis" snob. Without a doubt, the Albuquerque Little Theatre provides local residents with the same kind of high quality, professional production, both in sets, sound, acting and (of course) vocal ability, and was met with standing ovations in recognition and response.

Based off Victor Hugo's French novel, the characters in this show evoke the varied emotions of a society in the midst of political change, and massive suffering. Kevin Fannin portrays Jean Valjean, once a prisoner, repeatedly challenged by the conventions of his society, and forced to make moral choices as a consequence of his parole. The shift in Valjean's perspective, brought on by the struggle of trying to do right in an unjust world, is as pertinent today as it was to 19th century France, and Fannin's ability to remain compassionate in character, and to find his own vocal interpretation within these iconic songs, speaks to his artistry and talent.

Valjean's greatest adversary is that of Inspector Javert, portrayed by Paul Bower, who hunts Valjean obsessively, ready to bring Valjean to justice. Bower's Javert is phenomenal, one of the best I've ever seen, and as a character, is necessary as the counterpoint to Valjean's moral choices. Javert's own choices, which he seems unable to make with the same conviction as his nemesis, do not enrich his character but instead pull him apart. Ultimately it is Valjean who finds himself in this show, and Javert who loses himself. Bower's rich baritone fills the role completely, giving the adversarial role a sense of humanity as well. If we didn't connect to Javert's pathos, his existential crisis, a reason to pity him, then perhaps we are no better than he is.

Circumstances lead Valjean to becoming an unlikely father as he fosters the child belonging to Fantine, played by Shaena Crespo, a consumptive woman of the streets. Crespo's challenge is to coax this lifelong commitment from a man she hardly knows, and she brings this believability to her performance brilliantly. Cosette is kept by the conniving Madame Thernadier (Vanessa Sanchez) and her husband (Stephen Balling), a duplicitous pair who scheme their way through their miserable lives by focusing on being survivors in these times of hardship. With comic timing and a sense of bawdiness, Sanchez and Balling keep the couple light hearted, even though their characters are perhaps the least compassionate ones in the story. Valjean removes young Cosette from their care, knowing, "It won't take you long to forget."

As a grownup, Cosette (Karliz De Marco) falls in love with Marius, a student and revolutionary, played by Jon Gallegos. But Marius has another admirer as well, Eponine (Kristen Ryan), whose life is not nearly as pampered as the girl whom her family once fostered. Both De Marco and Ryan employ their powerful voices for these principle roles, giving us a range of emotions in their respective characters. Finding himself between his friend from the streets, and the young woman of society whom he fancies, Gallegos also shows us the emotions of his role, his soaring tenor voice filling the auditorium to take us on Marius' emotional evolution. Unable to take his eyes from Cosette, we feel the new found love when the couple first meets, as well as his great sorrow when later faced with the deaths of so many of his friends and compatriots. Gallegos' emotional connection to Marius allows us to remember that no matter how difficult it is to stand up for your beliefs, it can be even harder to be the last one standing and to still hold true to your prior convictions.

Beyond the love story, and the revenge story, there is the political story of the rebellion, fought by students who were ill prepared to meet their opposition. Requiring a strong ensemble, the men's moments are best seen and heard during "Red and Black," or the "Barricades" numbers, while the women combine their talent to numbers such as "Lovely Ladies," and "Turning," giving us many perspectives throughout the show. The ensemble cast functions as neatly as the principles do in their solo and duet moments, with individual characters that are believable and well thought out, as well as powerful in voice and presence.

Directed by Henry Avery, with musical direction by Lina Ramos, the show plays until June 15, and due to the popularity of the show -- the recent movie release made legions of fans that might not have existed before -- one should purchase tickets in advance, or risk being turned away from the theatre due to sold out houses. Visit their website at to find out more about tickets, as well as their upcoming 85th season, starting later this year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Gospel According to Joan by the Dolls at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill

With life lessons to spare, Joan Crawford speaks to us directly and candidly in the original work, "The Gospel According to Joan," currently presented by The Dolls and playing at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill. The drag troupe brings Joan to life in many of her incarnations, each one a delight to behold, giving us a glimpse of the many personas she was, her successes, failures, personal triumphs as well as pitfalls.

The Joan Crawford, portrayed as an aging glory and reflective upon her life, is skillfully played by Kenneth Ansloan, the show's playwright. Re-examining many of her life's plot twists and love interests, Joan meets the incarnations of her younger self, each one another evolution of the Hollywood star, as well as later coming face to face with her greatest rival, Bette Davis. At each moment, Ansloan remains true to his vision of Joan, always convincing while confronting the past.

As "Flapper Joan," Bradd Howard, the director, gleefully relives her more risque moments, including work in stag films and exploits on the directors' casting couches as she transitioned from silent movies into talkies. Coy and flippant, Howard gives his Joan the saucy flare of youth, complete with her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, then considered Hollywood royalty. "You're common and wild," accuses the Joan, judging her past, perhaps even while relishing in it.

"MGM Joan," the Joan who is at the height of her film career, is portrayed in her slap-happy glory by Jaime Pardo. Clutching her Oscar from Mildred Pierce, Pardo finds Joan's wild eyed Hollywood diva, who relishes being at the top of her game and in charge of the men around her, including her costar and lover Clark Gable (Brian Fejer) and a costar who became her second husband, Franchot Tone (Bryan Andrew Lambe). The male roles in this show are certainly entertaining but carry small parts, much like the men in Joan's real life. When Mayer later suggested she leave MGM, Crawford saw it as a betrayal, but she signed with Warner Brothers and the Oscar she won was her vindication for the studio's rebuff.

Giving us psychotic Joan is A.J. Carian as "Mommie Dearest Joan," including some of the memorable lines from daughter Christina's notorious tell-all, published after Joan's demise. Stealing the show in every sense, Carian's moment re-enacting Joan's cameo appearance on her daughter Christina's soap opera role is a delight. Portraying Joan, pretending to be Christina, pretending to be a soap opera actor (unprepared for her lines), the scene gives us plenty of laughter in between the other more serious moments of Joan's reverie.

Also giving the audience howls of laughter was Dean Squibb, portraying Joan's greatest rival, Bette Davis. Squibb's impersonation is done with comedic precision, every line delivered with laser wit. The scenes Ansloan and Squibb reenact from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? set up the audience for the boxing match between the two women, which perhaps would have been a more effective resolution to their lifelong rivalry. But beneath that ongoing competition, was there something less adversarial between the women? A begrudging sense of mutual respect? By the end of this show, it would certainly seem Bette is ultimately more than just a rival in Joan's life.

The Dolls, as a troupe, are fabulous... not just in the sequins-and-lipstick sense of the word but truly as actors who are willing to push social boundaries and expectations in order to tell the tale. A "dramedy" to the end, they work from each other, taking inspiration from live moments onstage and sometimes interacting with the audience to coax our giggles into belly laughs, at times ad-libbing, even coaxing the errant character-breaking giggle from their fellow troupe member to the audience's delight.

Seating at the Aux Dog is limited and advance tickets are recommended to insure you won't miss out on the Dolls' fun, so drop by the venue's website and grab yours before the show closes on June 1st. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

These Shining Lives by Duke City Repertory at the Cell Theatre

At a time when radium was touted as a panacea, only to be later recognized for the hazardous radioactive material that it is, opportunities for women in the workplace were practically nonexistent. In "These Shining Lives," presented by Duke City Repertory Theatre and playing at the Cell Theatre until May 25th, we see four women who bond with each other at the workplace they believed to be "the job of our dreams," only to later discover they are fighting together against the company that hired them, and the deadly substance they were exposed to during those years spent together.

Business at the Radium Dial Company was progressive for 1922, hiring hundreds of female workers at a time when women had barely been given the right to vote, and decades before Rosie the Riveter flexed her feminine muscle at her job. When Catherine Donohue (Amelia Ampuero) is hired on to paint dials with radium to provide that glowing, cheery Westclox face, she's taught the method that all the women employ, "Lip, dip and paint!" Paid by the dial, for years Catherine and her coworkers push themselves to see how many they can complete each day, relishing their financial independence even while apologizing to their husbands and families for their absence from the home.

Professing, "I'm not one of those career girls," to her husband Tom, played by Ezra Colon, Ampuero continually finds Catherine's many emotions, including her elation and pride, mixed with guilt and remorse, torn in a work-versus-home drama many mothers today continue to face. Colon brings every emotion to his role as well, including sharing her moments of joy, to challenging her dedication to their home, reminding her, "Be careful, work will cost you something." Never knowing the irony, he later describes her as a glowing angel, the radium left in her skin and hair even during her off hours illuminating her, and later taking her life. Ampuero almost never leaves the stage, navigating the play with a sense of invested honesty, and giving Donohue all of the highs and lows that are written into the show.

The other women of Ottowa, Illinois joining Catherine on this journey are her coworkers, Charlotte (Katie Becker Colon), Frances (Wendy Scott) and Pearl, (Evening Star Barron). The tough talking Charlotte is the natural leader, Frances provides the "moral backbone" (though flexible) and Pearl cracks jokes or remains quite quiet, vacillating between her own extremes. Finding a friendship forged at work was a new experience for these women, each aware of the opportunities their employment provides, even while taking so much more. The bond they grow and share is what speaks loudest, working together in the factory, then fighting the company in court, and, ultimately, dying together while company doctors prescribe aspirin, and assure them they are hysterical women who are imagining these symptoms. Fighting all the way up to the Supreme Court, the women's friendship and the relationship between Catherine and Tom, gives this story added dimensions beyond a typical "whistleblower" tale.

Directed by John Hardy, the theme of time plays out in many scenes; in Tom's eyes, Catherine is the "past, present and future," and at the job, "Time is money around that place." The dwindling time she has left while fighting the radium poisoning inside her body and fighting the company at court resonates in moments with greater awareness as the show, presented in its entirety, is allowed to build without stop. Giving balance to the tale is Frank Green's role as Mr. Reed, the ladies' boss, who turns a blind eye to their complaints and to his own culpability, as so many in management positions did (and continue to do when faced with their company's liability).

Seating at the Cell is limited and advance tickets are recommended, which you can buy ahead from the company's website at, as well as keep up to date with their latest news and coming season.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare by Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico

Continuing their seasonal theme of music by Tchaikovsky, Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico finished out their 24th season with a program full of master works by masterful choreographers, presented May 3 & 4, at Albuquerque's historic Kimo Theatre. BRT's Spring concert is always one where the company's dancers can expect to push their boundaries outside the classical repertoire, and audiences can expect innovative, creative voices in our dance community to be expressed through the medium of the entire company. Thankfully for us, Katherine Giese, BRT's company director, excels at giving these opportunities to her dancers and choreographers, and we, the audience, get to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor.

 Click HERE for choreographers Vladimir, Celia & Alex discussing their works

The evening began with the first of Tchaikovsky's fantasy overtures to be presented, "Hamlet," choreographed by Vladimir Conde Reche. Danced in bare feet, the contemporary movements and angular shapes created the turmoil of the tale, while grounding this story's angst with earthy emotions, and even costumed in earthy tones. Evoking the emotions of the piece without giving us a literal story ballet translation, Conde Reche chose not to cast any one dancer as "Ophelia," or "Hamlet," but to allow all the dancers to find these moments within the choreography. Capturing the atmosphere of this dark, fantasy overture, the moments when the females were suspended, hovering over their men, in floor work and in lifts, suggested the romantic, yet ungrounded quality of Ophelia's mind, as well as the couple's complex relationship to one another. Briana Van Schuyver's passionate solo gave of her artistic side as much as her technical abilities, and by the story's end, she was the only one left standing.

Celia Dale choreographed the second piece of the program, a repertory piece, "The Tempest," danced by seven female dancers. Dale's loose and flowing contemporary ballet shapeswith dancers clothed in tunics of pale blues, allowed the oceanic and otherworldly qualities of Shakespeare's tale to come through, as "sea nymphs hourly ring his knell." The group came together in small trios and pas de quatres, as well as larger, ensemble moments, with each dancer showing the extent of her technique in their mutually exquisite lines, as well as long, sustained passages danced en pointe, and requiring incredible strength and stamina to sustain. Punctuating the dance movements, which varied from crashing and raucous, to light and airy, were spoken passages of "The Tempest," narrated by Giacomo Zafarano. Annie Cormier's solo moments were gentle, powerful and expressive, reminding us in Shakespeare's words, "We are such stuff as dreams are made of."

The final presentation, "Romeo and Juliet," is also a repertory piece, one which choreographer Alex Ossadnik has previously set on the company, using the concept of a chess game. By Ossadnik's vision, the traditional star crossed lovers become the Black Queen and the Red King, danced with passion and abandon by Annie Cormier and Giacomo Zafarano, while surrounded by the other characters (or pawns?) in the tale. One of the most intriguing characters Ossadnik created for this dance was that of "Peace," clad in both black and red. At times, her movements became mechanical, suggesting the machinations of fate that are ingrained in this tale, and special mention must be given to the creative lighting design, with checkerboard patterns created on the floor, all of which accentuate the larger Shakespearean themes of surrendering to unknown forces that are greater than ourselves.

Director Katherine Giese's eyes twinkle when she talks about what's coming next for their upcoming season, commemorating their 25 years here in Albuquerque. For more information about BRT's company, their classes, summer workshops, as well as their upcoming season, visit their website at

Thursday, May 1, 2014

SPOTLIGHT: Victoria Liberatori, Producing Artistic Director of the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill

Is it serendipity that we find ourselves where we are meant to be, even if it wasn't necessarily part of our life's original plans? It must have been so for Victoria Liberatori at the Auxiliary Dog, or Aux Dog, Theatre Nob Hill. She didn't really intend to settle in Albuquerque, but after being involved behind the scenes, and then being invited to come and direct "Recent Tragic Events," a 9/11 commemorative piece that showed in 2011, she found her involvement in the Albuquerque theatre arts scene continuing to unfold.

The Aux Dog, originally founded by Eli Browning over seven years ago, has been creating a new space for theatrical works in their Monte Vista location, just east of Girard, before Liberatori's entrance. But fifteen months after directing her first play here, Liberatori was given the title of producing artistic director and things seemed to kick into high gear, with their recent expansion, new classes, and new collaborations with other companies here in town.

Last year brought many accolades to the theatre and its players, including being voted one of the top five Albuquerque venues to see live theatre in Albuquerque, the Magazine's "Best of the City" issue. They produced the best theatrical production of 2013, "Venus in Furs," with the best theatrical couple of 2013, an honor Barry Gaines, reviewer for the Albuquerque Journal, bestowed to the show and its stars, Sheridan Johnson and Brennan Foster. The Aux Dog also landed on Local IQ's 2014 Smart List as 2nd place for Best Theatre, and 3rd place for Best Theatre Troupe in Albuquerque. 

New growth is happening and the space is expanding to accommodate these future plans, converting what was once a clothing store into a creative space, thanks in part to Liberatori's vision and hard work, as well as the local efforts and donations from the community. Adding almost another 1/3 to the size of their overall property, their new black box space -- a.k.a. The X-Space -- allows additional room for rehearsals, classes, meetings, office space, as well as future performances. "I immediately took to it," Liberatori admits. "We have a lot of programming, and we rent space in our new facility.... Those rehearsals are already beginning. We just have a lot going on." Classes have already begun; Pre-Professional Intensive Acting Classes are currently taught by Aux Dog artistic associate Jessica Osbourne, and plans are in the works for Liberatori to teach an upcoming Text Analysis and Directing workshop as well.

No doubt the space will be quite occupied, and in many ways. The Aux Dog Theatre Company hosts nine productions a year at their established 90-seat theatre space, and they're just one of the companies who are now calling the Aux Dog its theatrical home. You can also catch The Dolls, a regional drag theatrical company, performing at the Aux Dog about four times a year, as well as Rocky Horror New Mexico, who perform there monthly. The new X space also includes a floating wooden, or "sprung," dance floor -- if you dance, you just sighed in relief -- and Edye Allen's company Dance Expose is already making plans to put it to good use. The Dolls will be opening their next show on the main stage, "The Gospel According to Joan" on May 9 and playing through June 1, and later this year the Aux Dog will be collaborating with the Mother Road Theatre Company to bring roller derby action to their venue in "The Jammer."

Liberatori's background made her an ideal candidate for the position she now holds, having spent 25 years as the Artistic Director at Princeton Repertory Company, an Equity company located in Princeton, NJ, in addition to other professional theatre endeavors in her past. With connections to New York, the theatre capital, Liberatori has a knack for finding new (and established) theatrical works that Albuquerque audiences are ready and eager to consume. You can check out all of their upcoming shows on their website, call (505) 254-7716 to leave a message for Liberatori, or email the company at and get ready to visit their new space for something dramatically new, and completely different.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird at Albuquerque Little Theatre

Collaborating to bring an American classic to life, Mother Road Theatre Company and Albuquerque Little Theatre present "To Kill a Mockingbird," and if it's been a while since you've visited Maycomb, Alabama (7th grade English class' required reading?), now is the perfect chance. Set in 1935, the economic, social and moral challenges of the time and place come to life through the memories of Jean Louise Finch, called Scout as a child.

Narrating the show is the grownup Jean Louise, played by Julia Thudium, whose recollections allow us to visit the past as she and her older brother Jem were raised by their widower father and his black maid Calpurnia in this small Southern town. Thudium recalls the happenings of her hometown, giving us glimpses of the woman that the child later evolved into, due in part to the events such as the summer of 1935. Mackenzie Jarrell, as Scout, and Traeton Pucket, as Jem -- along with their friend Dill, played by Logan Smith -- exceed the expectations typical of child actors, delivering powerful performances that are central to the action of the tale, while Thudium brings Jean Louise's emotional evolution to life with tremendous heartfelt honesty.

Their father, and perhaps the most moral man of Maycomb, is the lawyer Atticus Finch, expertly played by Christopher Atwood. Atwood, balancing the conscientious character of Atticus against the turbulent times of his town, creates a man whose principles necessitate the choices he feels must be made, even when it means going against the opinions of his fellow town locals. Scout is quite certain her father "doesn't do anything," but throughout the play she finds surprises along the way as to Atticus' true character. When asked about the Tom Robinson case, where Atticus defends a black man against the charge of raping a white woman, Atticus responds, "Every lawyer gets one case in his life that affects him personally. This is mine."

The story stands so strongly that to have such a mutually talented cast allows the emotions of the play to rise to the surface. A dramatic work such as this showcases so many of the talented actors -- Yvonne Mangrum as Calpurnia, Amy Bourque as Mayella Ewell, Bridget Kelly as Miss Maudie -- even when their appearances are cursory. Through these townspeople, including the cameo of the reclusive, mentally incompetent Boo Radley (Morse Bicknell) and the accused black man Tom Robinson (Hakim Bellamy), Lee illustrates the prejudices and cruelty of mankind, as well as the quiet voice of conscience that can also prevail when not drowned out by the noise of an angry mob.

The disease of misanthropic behavior can become virulent as we see it infect Maycomb before, during and after the Robinson trial. Bellamy as Tom Robinson shines as the portrait of an innocent man who knows he very well may yet pay for a crime he didn't commit. His command of the dialect and ability to believably embody Tom was impressive. And, giving one of the best mean drunks I've ever seen, Vic Browder plays Bob Ewell, the villain of the tale, and catalyst to much of the town's chaotic behavior. Even Boo, who is momentary, is haunting and leaves a strong impression, bespeaking of Bicknell's tremendous acting abilities to embody a character so elusive, and in so brief a moment.

Larger themes emerge from Lee's work, most notably the concept of individual merit versus mob mentality, whether it be an actual mob or even a jury of one's "peers." That a man or woman can become so compromised to their own basic character when goaded into doing so by a crowd is the shaming fact of human existence, and one which holds our salvation as well. As individuals, such as Atticus, Miss Maudie, and later Jean Louise, we are encouraged to ask questions of the status quo, to find our voice and in doing so, to stand our ground while seeking to change the injustices of our world. The goal is lofty, but the means are humble, a lesson that is as applicable in today's times as it was in the Depression-era South.

By the end of the evening the audience was on their feet congratulating the cast on a superb performance. To become a part of this classic yourself, you can visit or for tickets and more information on showtimes, playing currently until April 27th.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dancing at Lughnasa at the Adobe Theatre

Step dance your way into another time by entering the world of  "Dancing at Lughnasa," currently playing at the Adobe Theatre, and running until April 27.  Taking us to the fictional village of Ballybeg in Ireland, we enter the childhood memories of Michael, recalling what it was like to be raised by five women, and an absentee father, and struggling to understand the grownups' ways while finding himself.

Photo by Daryl Streeter
Jennifer Lloyd-Cary plays Christina, the young mother whose child Michael was born out of wedlock. Michael, played by Paul Hunton and appearing as a grownup, narrates the memory play as his own recollections from the age of 7, and through him we glimpse life at a very economically depressed time. Vacillating between the joy of her lover's unpredictable homecomings and despondency during his long, unexplained absences, Lloyd-Cary brings her character to life with a sense of emotional believability that we can connect with. As Gerry, the absentee father, Jeremy Gwin charms her, giving Christina the impression he has returned for good, only to disappear again (and again). Like Christina, we want to believe in his promises for a better life, even though we know it probably won't happen.

Photo by Daryl Streeter
Joy, like the songs from the Marconi radio in their kitchen, is a sporadic visitor that seldom stays for long, but in true Irish spirit, when the sisters begin to dance, they leave their real worlds behind just long enough to touch that something greater. As the leaders of the family, Kate, the eldest (Lacey Bingham) is rigidly devout, while Maggie (Heather Lovick-Tolley) is more earthy and free spirited. With meager skills to support themselves with, the two middle sisters turn to hand knitting, Agnes (Bridget Dunne) and Rose (Andrea Haskett), only to find their livelihood threatened by new technology, forcing them both to make hard decisions of their own.

Photo by Daryl Streeter
The Ireland of the show is downtrodden, recovering from the loss of many of its young men in the first World War as well as the economic struggles of the Great Depression, but like the women themselves, the joyful spirit of the people cannot be squelched by the difficulties of their times. Just the idea of attending the Festival of Lughnasa, one of the only social outings the women might know in a year, is enough to inspire fits of laughter and squeals of joy -- like so many of their generation, they must learn to live on hope and ideas far more than the reality that confronts them daily. Their lives are a mix of the secular and religious, a concept personified by their brother Jack (William Lang), a priest who stays with his sisters while recuperating from malaria, caught in Africa during his missionary work.

The metaphor of dancing appears throughout the show, and as Michael states, "Dancing is a language that no longer existed, because words no longer mattered." Directed by Leslee Richards, the show wraps you into its tale and makes you consider that time and place already long past, and when the sisters dance, with choreography by Judith Chazin-Bennahum, you almost wish you could join in their fun. Each sister expresses herself a little differently once the music begins to play, and the act of abandoning one's self to ecstatic movement that comes from within gives each of them a little of the release they seek while living under such oppressing circumstances.

To join the dance for yourself, you can buy tickets online at their website, , or call their box office at 505.898.9222.