Signature Productions’ “Hairspray”

April 11, 2012 at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center

Signature Production’s Hairspray blew our wigs off with its high production quality and joyful performances.

The cast had terrific energy, talent and passion. Even though many characters were written to be somewhat over-the-top or caricature-ish, the actors in this production played those at just the right level to be believable, likeable and relatable.  These subtle choices in acting and direction are to be commended.

The interaction of the actors established solid relationships, drawing the audience in from the first moment.

Singing by every actor was strong and well-articulated. All sang at a professional level.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"
Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Direction was superb.  Transitions were inventive and clever, and performed smoothly.  Use of sets, lighting and script during scene changes made them as engaging as the scenes. Staging was creative and contributed greatly to the storytelling.  Placement and movement of each actor had a reason, and furthered the story.

Choreography was pleasingly stylish, sharp, and well-rehearsed.  It was not distracting, gratuitously complex or self-aggrandizing; it was well-chosen for the level of dance ability of the cast.  The cast performed it cleanly and joyfully. Choreography of sets, such as the jailhouse bars, was witty and interesting. And choreographed special effects using real hairspray –- terrific!

Costumes were richly designed and constructed, authentic in style to the 60’s, eye-catchingly detailed, expressive of each character’s story, and perfectly tailored.

Lighting was judicious and effective in creating the right mood and directing the eye to the action.  Sound had no discernible problems, and the performers’ voices sounded natural and clear.

Sets were impressive in size, detail, construction, mobility and variety.  Of special note was the huge blue-checkered backdrop early in the show, and the simple jailhouse scene set: the former perfectly symbolized the aesthetic of the 60s and created a ‘groovy’ atmosphere with its rich colors and sophisticated execution; the latter effectively evoked the setting due to its shape, minimalism and starkness.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Casting an actual child in the part of Little Inez is rarely done, but Malia Blunt sang, acted and danced with skill and poise.  Her talent and skill are professional-theater level, maybe even Broadway-ready.

This performance belied the label ‘community theater’.  In all respects, including staging, costumes, sets, directing, acting and singing, this company and production offered a professional theater-level experience.  If a few of these theatrical and production elements were weaker, the show would still have been well-worth attending.  But every element was designed and performed with excellence, which made attending it fun and memorable.  The production sparkled with professionalism. This show was truly a gem.

Audience: All Ages

Event Rating: A++

Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s “Cinderella”

April 20, 2012 at Henderson Pavilion

"Cinderella" by the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company

This performance, in the beautiful Henderson Pavilion, was a sore disappointment in every aspect except one (to be addressed later).

First, the obvious: theater has a strong visual component.  Costuming and scenery matter.

In this show, the opening costumes were bland, and of rough construction, on all the characters.  They all read as flat, and blended into the background scenery, especially Cinderella’s dress. If a contrast to the later ball gowns was intended, it went too far to the plain/visually-uninteresting end of the spectrum.

The king wore what appeared to be a modern black suit with a white collar shirt.

The low-cost nature of wardrobe efforts was also evidenced by the proportion of actors who wore plain Capezio character shoes or modern ballet flats that were unadorned and unmodified to resemble period footwear.  It doesn’t cost much to indicate period style; it just requires a good designer and clever ideas.  The costumes in this show were disappointing in their lack of creativity, dimensions, and historical details.

The sets were alarmingly amateurish.  The opening sets looked painfully small for the stage, and did not read as three-dimensional structures – they were painted very two-dimensionally.  While minimalistic sets can be done very effectively and cleverly, this was not the case in Cinderella.  The butcher’s building, supposedly a stone structure, had no depth or weight to it because of how it was painted.  The palace bedroom looked like a shack or converted garage, as it was merely a chaise sofa and a window treatment – no painted or hung adornments to indicate wealth, prestige or royalty.  There were no backdrops in the first act to create atmosphere or indicate place or time.

The sound suffered from unending reverb, and many of the actor’s voices were muffled and too low in volume to be heard, especially in the ensemble.

The inclusion of children brought its own problems.  Their costumes were alternately ratty, ill-fitting, or not appropriate for their ages.  The white-horse girls particularly lacked confidence, continually looked at, and talked to, each other, and steered the pumpkin carriage right into the legs (side curtains). It appeared that the children in animal costumes did not have character makeup on.  Choreography for the children was extremely simple, yet they were under-rehearsed or not quite at the level of performance that a show like this, in a performance space like this, requires.

Of note, the mice were ticklingly cute.  But that wasn’t the significant positive aspect of the show.

Gail Bennett, who played Cinderella, was a joy.  Her singing, acting, timing, and stage presence were of the highest caliber. She was a bright light of talent, intent, and skill.

Unfortunately, the overall impression of Cinderella was of an uncreative, unclever amateur staging – more like a dance school recital than a professional production.  This was an unexpected shock from a company that named itself after one of the world’s greatest playwrights.

Luckily, other community theater groups in Las Vegas are doing better than this. In fact, several other production groups have mounted exceptional shows, even in smaller venues, that border on regional- or professional-theatre quality.  These include Signature Productions and PS Productions. Don’t give up on all Las Vegas theater, just head for those other productions and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Event Rating:  F    (for Ms. Bennett: A)

Audience: All Ages