“Company” Bursts with Talent

July 10, 2012, LVH Showroom (formerly Las Vegas Hilton)

A dream team of Las Vegas singers and musicians celebrated the sounds of Sondheim on one of the most venerable stages in town.

The one-time home of legends Elvis and Barry Manilow played host to this two-night revival of the 1970s Broadway hit “Company”, a wrenching examination  of marriage and relationships.

"Company"

“Company”

Dozens of local Las Vegas singer-actors and musicians banded together to resurrect this deeply-emotional musical.  The cast was a who’s-who of current and former lead singers from 30 years of Las Vegas theater and production shows.

The singers shone at every moment– belting and cooing, vocally cavorting (and sometimes, physically cavorting) to bring to life each different character.

"Company"

“Company”

The singers also acted their socks off, committing to their characters so completely that the audience physically experienced the anguish and longing they were expressing.

The lighting was beautiful and dramatic.

The orchestra was breathtaking. A 22-piece orchestra played the score live — what a treat!  Bassoon, oboe, tympani, and xylophone graced center stage along with a 10-piece string section.  Bill Fayne, musical director and conductor, guided the tuxedoed musicians with expertise, subtlety and passion.  Quite a thrill for anyone who studied music or previously experienced a Broadway-caliber orchestra, and a fabulous introduction for anyone who had not.

Winds section from "Company"

Winds section of orchestra in “Company”

“Side By Side By Side” was a standout number because of the energy, humor and playfulness amongst the singers.  The choreography was effective, supported the message of the song, was well-rehearsed and sharply-performed by the singers, adding a delightful visual element.

Unfortunately, some slow scene transitions and pauses in dialogue hindered the pace of the show.

The singers’ black attire, in front of the black background on the LVH stage, had the regrettable effect of disappearing their bodies and movements.  There was good use of the levels of the stage platform by the cast to differentiate scenes, yet the platform was far away from the audience and the cast would have been more visible had they worn brighter-colored clothing.

Transitions and wardrobe would almost certainly be worked out in a longer run of the show; it is incredible difficult to tweak these things to perfection in only two shows.

Despite these challenges, this production presented a Broadway show that was bursting with talent and fantastic performances from the entire cast, and demonstrated, once again, that the theatrical and music community in Las Vegas has both the depth and passion required to present nationally-known shows at an impressive level.

Audience: age 8 and up

Rating: A

“Oliver!” at Super Summer Theatre

July 11, 2012 (Opening Night), Spring Mountain Ranch

The British National Theatre Company of America’s production of “Oliver!” opened on a strong note at Super Summer Theatre.

The sets were richly painted and detailed, with deep colors, lots of textures, and multiple levels that were enhanced by varying heights of set pieces and props. The lighting enhanced the creation of a dark, forbidding, grimy atmosphere, effectively transporting the audience to a war-torn, crumbling city.

Oliver!

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre

Immediately notable in the opening of the show was the talent and professionalism of the child actors. The children were focused, clean and confident in their scenes, group dances and interactions. Sara Andreas, who played Oliver, demonstrated vibrant vocal quality and strength. She was in good company, as every lead and ensemble member sang strong and clear.

Costumes were period-appropriate, with good detail and style.

The choreography for the children was delightfully creative, with a modernized hip-hop style suffusing the children’s movements throughout group lifts, canon movements and prop work. The fresh style was eye-catching and fitting in its street-feel, and in many ways reflected movement that children naturally do.

All of the children were good dancers, and the sharpness of their performance was impressive. Whether in formations or during simple gestures of the head, focusing to and away from a lead adult character, the children moved in unison and were obviously well-rehearsed, giving the production a polished appearance. Great job, especially on an opening night.

Oliver!

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre.

“Consider Yourself” had interesting formation work and character choreography, including umbrella choreography.  Artful Dodger performed a quirky, clean, memorable dance solo.

Violence toward women and children was graphically presented in “Oliver!”, and was disturbing. Children in the audience may need adult guidance to navigate the violent themes.

While these themes are part of the original foundation of the show, and traditionally central to the show’s theme of ‘survival’, they make the audience wish that one of the victimized characters would outright resist, outwit their persecutors or trick them into turning on each other, or that the offenders would ‘get their due’ as vividly as Oliver and the women suffer abuse and death.

This production of “Oliver!” was admirably directed, choreographed, and performed. With modernized choreography, robust singing and confident performances, it entertained the full-house crowd and set a high bar for its three weeks of performances.

Audience: appropriate for ages 10-up

Rating: A

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

Marta Becket Ends 43-Year Run at Amargosa Opera House

“The Sitting Down Show” (closing night),  Amargosa Opera House, February 12, 2012

The desert ballerina has retired.

Marta Becket

Marta Becket

Marta Becket, the dedicated performer who brought the Amargosa Opera House back to life with her one-woman dance-mime shows, gave her final public performance on Sunday February 12.  Though she no longer can dance, she sat regally on a throne-like chair with costume pieces and props in easy reach, and shared her memories of her life in Death Valley Junction.  She acted out real-life characters that populated her adopted town, as well as fictional characters from musicals she had conceived, composed and danced.  Her memory was relentless, and her wit fully intact.  She demonstrated that her passion for art, music and dance is matched only by her keen observation of people around her and her comedic storytelling.  She was luminous, entrancing, and consummately entertaining.

Ms. Becket was a performer in well-known Broadway productions in the 1940s, yet by the late 1950s she felt her artistic options drying up in New York.  She created solo shows that toured around the country.  In 1968 she inadvertently discovered the abandoned hall at Death Valley Junction when her car got a flat tire nearby.  She refurbished the hall over time, painting every inch of the inside with richly-detailed murals of a royal medieval audience.

Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage

Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage. Murals by Marta Becket.

Ms. Becket labored at her art – including dance, piano, singing, composing, writing, painting – in a place most performers would not feel comfortable.  Far from a metropolis, cultural mecca, famous theaters, devoted art lovers, and other artists.  She had none of the support upon which most artists thrive or depend – neither from wealthy patrons, nor celebrated dance companies, nor an artistic community.  She created her art in the vast openness of Death Valley.  Completely alone, entirely un-networked.

She proved that it doesn’t matter where you do it; it matters that you are doing it.

Ms. Becket brought art to the desert, to people who had never seen it before, who never thought they desired to.  She planted the seed.  It didn’t grow big, but it grew strong and held on, like desert sage brush.  Audiences never forgot her shows.

She didn’t let geographic status erode her passion or dilute her vision.  She claimed the emptiness of the valley, and the opera house, as her blank canvas.  And she created her art on her own terms.

She did what she wanted, where she wanted.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Discarding the group-think of the New York arts crowd (that Manhattan was the only desirable locale for true artists), Ms. Becket asserted a bold notion: art is art, no matter where it’s created.

That insight freed her to explore and express all her talents.

She didn’t need tuxedoed audiences, thousand-seat theaters, employment in world-renowned companies, million-dollar sets — or even a stage crew — to validate her sense of being an artist and performer.  She found a space in which to revel in her own creativity and style, unencumbered by the strict expectations of the artistic and show business communities in large cities. As she wrote in her original lyrics, “No longer a slave to theatrical tradition; I’ve found my place in the sun.”

Of course, she was often unencumbered by an audience to see her work.  Many nights, when no one came to her scheduled performance, she danced only for the royalty in her hand-painted murals.  Yet, she always felt that joy of being onstage.  She was happy.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals. Words on parchment read: "The walls of this theater and I dedicate these murals to the past, without which our times would have no beauty".

She performed not for money, fame, status or recognition, but for the joy of creating — that transcendent fulfillment that results from planning, rehearsing, creating concepts, constructing sets and props, and coordinating all of it to convey a story of human desire or experience.  Like a writer composing a book, she was never sure if anyone would see her work or care for it.  Undeterred, she continued to dream and create, because that was what her soul yearned to do.

Ms. Beckett lived her soul.

UNLV Opera Theatre “Divas”

Dr. Arturo Rando-Grillot Recital Hall, UNLV 

Nov 18, 2011

Leather pants, face glitter, goth drag and Twitter gags – this is opera? Yes, and hilariously so.

UNLV Department of Music’s updated version of opera paired traditional music and librettos with modernized characters of pop and Las Vegas culture, making centuries-old stories relevant and poignant to today’s audiences.

Starting the program with a contemporary piece from Too Many Sopranos by Edwin Penhorwood, a bevy of elegant ladies in evening gowns graced the glowing wood stage and backdrop of floor-to-ceiling organ pipes.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Penhorwood's "Too Many Sopranos"

UNLV Opera Theatre: Penhorwood's "Too Many Surprises"

Lead singer Nathan Van Arsdale, appearing in drag and sporting a very long, very black wig that gave him a distinctive gothic vibe, wowed the audience with powerful vocal resonance and projection. Tongue-in-cheek delivery made this piece instantly likeable.  If texting had been allowed, messages like “OMG! WTF! opera rox!” would have prevailed.

The second piece, Haydn’s La Canterina, was presented in the original Italian  and in traditional attire (floor-length, frilly dresses for the women, and short pants, white stockings and powdered wigs for the men).  The cast’s vocals were of professional quality – clear, strong, controlled, and soaring.  The pantomime and face-acting by each character told the story quite well, done with perfect drama and subtlety. Libretto translation was projected onto a movie screen that was on the side of the stage.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Haydn's "La Canterina"

UNLV Opera Theatre: Haydn's "La Canterina"

In this comic opera, the duplicitous nature of the characters and the knavery in the story were playfully acted by the cast, evoking much amusement from the audience.  The cast’s  performance made opera accessible and fun.

Jahmaul Bakare, Sheronda McKee, Cecilia Lopez and Kathleen McVicker were riveting to watch and hear. Ms. McKee carried on as a true professional when her skirt tore midway through a scene.  The porters provided comic relief through their bumbling, half-wit characters (one of which, Mr. Van Arsdale, was the previously-seen drag diva).  The quartet and arias were pure pleasures to witness. One felt privy to early performances of future opera greats.

Their voices were commanding, rich and sophisticated.  Piano was the only accompaniment. Pure human singing, unprocessed and unamplified, feels different to our ears; kinder and gentler than amplified musical events, yet more thrilling.

The cast members in the next three pieces, excerpts from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, Victor Herbert’s The Enchantress, and Thomas Pasatieri’s Divas of a Certain Age, displayed various levels of experience and accomplishment.  “We’re the UNLV Divas” was spunky and spirited.  Despite the inconsistencies in the choreography execution and a lack of confidence evident in some ladies, all showed potential for development.  Divas of a Certain Age was well-staged, but the costuming was confusing; the characters were supposedly middle-aged, yet they were attired as college girls.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario".  Lady Gaga (Erin Kennelly) and her Little Monsters.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario". Lady Gaga (Erin Kennelly) and her Little Monsters.

The last piece of the evening was the most inventive and delightful.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario (Der Schauspieldirektor), retained Mozart’s plot line, while substituting modern pop-divas and reality-TV personalities for the original characters.  In music director Linda Lister’s updated version, Steve Wynn (Mr. Van Arsdale) is looking to hire a singer for his newly-acquired Caesar’s properties. He is advised (or ill-advised) by Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino (Brian Myer), and lobbied by Ari Gold (Jonathan Mancheni) to audition Madonna (Isabella Ivy) and Lady Gaga (Erin Kennelly).

UNLV Opera Theatre: Libretto translation projected on a side screen.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Libretto translation projected on a side screen. Text of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino (Brian Myer) in Mozart's "The Impresario".

The competition between the two divas is fierce; Madonna snipes, “Oh, now Gaga sings opera? Can’t she come up with anything of her own?”; Gaga purrs, “I can sing Mozart in German while tweeting!”.  Dueling arias ensue between Maddie and Gaga, and progress into a rivalrous trio with Gold — an operatic cat fight – while The Situation flashes his six-pack and takes digital photos of the divas, which he shares with ever-amorous groupies.  Wynn quits Caesar’s to start a vegan farm and leaves The Situation in charge of the casino empire. Yoga poses from all participants fail to calm the group, until Gold pleads for harmony.

The vocal performances by all of the featured characters in this Mozart piece were astounding. Ms. Kennelly and Ms. Ivy’s soaring, robust singing was pure greatness. Mr. Mancheni and Mr. Van Arsdale had terrific stage presence. The staging was creative and effective in advancing the story.  Production details, such as Lady Gaga’s backup dancers wearing origami claws and hats, added interesting visual elements. The piece was engaging, invigorating and riotously funny.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario" Trio.  Lady Gaga, Ari Gold, Madonna.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario" Trio. Lady Gaga (Kennelly), Ari Gold (Jonathan Mancheni), Madonna (Isabella Ivy).

This evening of opera was inspiring, enjoyable, educational, and memorable. UNLV showed that not only  can it preserve and present the classics, but also update them in a meaningful and entertaining way for today’s audiences.

Event Rating: A

Audience: All Ages

Vegas Vaudeville: Songsters, Hoofers and High-Class Stage Actors

At CSN’s Nicholas J Horn Theater, Sept 16, 2011

What images does the word “vaudeville” flash in your mind?  Scenes from “Singin’ in the Rain” of comedic violin duets?  Or maybe Bob Hope slap-stick skits? Soft-shoe dancing? Eclectic magicians?  If so, you would have felt in your element at the recent “Vegas Vaudeville”, which the Lion King cast presented at the Horn Theater.

Vegas Vaudeville: Singer/dancer Deidre Lang

Singer/Dancer Deidre Lang; dancers Robert Knowles and Jarrett Kelly

Reviving the classic vaudeville structure – the original variety show – this production presented actors, singers, dancers, magicians and specialty acts in an atmosphere of rollicking humor and punnery (a new word, invented by me about 7 seconds ago.  Now, if I can just get it on the Colbert Report, it might make it into Merriam-Webster by next year…).  The production was kept to a PG-rating, allowing audience members of all ages to enjoy the entertainment.

Vegas Vaudeville

Vegas Vaudeville. Photo credit: MaryAnn.

In the spirit of the original vaudeville shows from the time of the Depression, a genuine ham was given to one lucky audience member.  Yes, a ham.

In a further nod to customs of the time, the show ended on a heart-felt, rousing patriotic note.

Vegas Vaudeville: Escape Artist "The Elusive Mr. Lex"

Escape artist "The Elusive Mr. Lex"

An exceptionally-fake, large hairy primate made a guest appearance, attempting to sweep a sweet dancer away from her human crush; a sign-changing chorine morphed into a teasing coquette with one last surprise up her, ahem, sleeve; singers of tremendous talent belted and serenaded all manner of songs; comedic magicians, glass-eating stilt-walkers, an escape artist and a pearl-draped tap dancer shared their unique obsessions —  all linked and segued by the limitless talent of a ukulele-playing, rhythm-footed crooner and all-around jokester MC.

Vegas Vaudeville: singer/dancer Deidrea Halley

Singer/Dancer Deidrea Halley

“Vegas Vaudeville” was consummate, innocent, silly fun – for the cast, as well as for the audience. “Vegas Vaudeville” may be presented again in Las Vegas in the near future, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Disclosure: This blogger may have been the chorine sign-changer in “Vegas Vaudeville”, choreographed a dance number and served as the publicist.  OK, she actually was.  But she wrote about it in a pretty unbiased way, eh?

Vegas Vaudeville

Vegas Vaudeville: Songsters, Hoofers and High-Class Stage Actors

M&M’s “Love 2 Dance”

Aug 19, 2011 at South Point Casino

The joy of richly-experienced performers pervaded the cozy stage as the 14 international dancers revealed intimate memories of their dance careers.

Audition fears, inspiration sources, performance experiences, and personal reasons for dancing were questions asked and answered through dance and live recitation.

M&M

M&M Love 2 Dance

Among the standout acts were Don Bellamy’s recollection of dancing with Alvin Ailey and sacrificing electrical service for dance shoes; the full company demonstrating the humorous side to auditioning (featuring terrific breakdancing); Tony Coppola’s tap solo  and percussion work; and the hip hop-styled “Money”, which elucidated the challenging costs of classes, shoes, rehearsal space, agents and costumes.

Top acts in the show were “Big Spender”, “I Wanna Be A Dancin’ Man” and “Love 2 Dance”.

“Big Spender”, danced and acted by statuesque former showgirls Liz Eliot Lieberman, Lynn Martin Fouce and Karlyn Zambrotta, incorporated Fosse-style choreography and clever banter based on their true life stories.  It was the most delightful and enchanting act of the night.

“I Wanna Be A Dancin’ Man”, a group chair dance, was well-conceived, well-sung, tight and concise.

“Love 2 Dance” featured each dancer stating what he or she felt when dancing, and then soloing to his or her preferred rhythm, played live on drums by Coppola.  An engaging chance to get to know the dancers, and the first indication of the wide variety of dance training among the cast.

The show’s strengths were the variety of musical and dance styles, the technique of the dancers, Coppola’s percussion playing and the live storytelling.  The weaknesses of the show were the costumes, the length of numbers, the ‘Q&A’ structure – and the live storytelling.

Music styles ranging from hip hop to standards, and dance styles from ballet to hip hop, varied the visual and aural experience.  The dancers’ technique shone for the most part (M&M aborted several lifts in the latter part of the show; fatigue could have been a factor).  The personal stories were riveting, celebratory, tragic, inspiring and heartbreaking.  The stuff of a great show.

Speaking or singing while dancing is extraordinarily difficult, and it was executed quite well.  However, heavy breathing, an unavoidable result of dancing, was picked up by the mics,  and was distinctly distracting.  This may be something that their sound guy can smooth out.

Visually, the most disappointing aspect of the show was the lack of costume changes and color – dancers wore the same outfits for several numbers, and everything was black.  Color livens a show.  Melinda’s red dress in the finale was a relief, but it came too late.

Many of the numbers ran too long, and there were too many of them.  The numbers and show would have more punch if shortened.  Ruthless editing will achieve this.

M&M’s elder-characters were funny and would be an appropriate act in a variety show (assuming seniors aren’t offended by them).  However, in the end, the elder-spoofing and Q&A structure were superfluous and jarring.  Omitting them from this show, (yes, cutting all of it out)  and letting each act flow seamlessly into the next would generate anticipation and mystery before each act.  Each act would reveal an answer to an implied question – and that question might vary for each audience member, thereby having different meaning to each observer.

At the very least, M&M should cut the on-stage explanation of how they put the show together.  If it  has to be explained, then the show doesn’t stand on its own legs.  This show can.  An on-stage introduction is scaffolding  —  which should be removed once a structure is completed.  Creator/director thought processes can be shared in director’s notes in the program.

This show has great ‘bones’, in the form of world-class performers with decades of experience.  The Las Vegas community is fortunate to have creative, passionate performers who gather and craft original productions.  “Love 2 Dance” is a nice concept and with further development will become a good show.

Rating: B+

Audience: all ages

Super Summer Theater “The Drowsy Chaperone”

The Drowsy Chaperone

PS Productions' "The Drowsy Chaperone"

PS Productions’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” continued a long tradition of excellent productions at Las Vegas’ very own Super Summer Theater.  Each actor performed with full commitment and passion, each song delivered energy and vigor .  The creative staging and brisk pace of the show were quite engaging.

Impressive performances by Shannon Winkel (Janet Van De Graaf) and Ayler Evan (Adolpho) engrossed the audience.  This writer had previously seen Ms. Winkel in “Singin’ in the Rain” playing Kathy Seldon for Signature Productions earlier this year; it was a treat to see her again in a production.  Her singing and stage presence were captivating, and she showed her significant range of acting, as well.  She also did great justice to the musical direction and tap choreography.

Mr. Evan was charming and appealing in his flamboyant characterization of Adolpho.  He delighted the audience with the vivacious life he brought to each scene.  His physical comedy was hilarious.

Indeed, every element of the show was very well done.  Costumes were impeccably designed and richly detailed, as a close examination after the show revealed.  Lighting was well-designed and executed, the sets were terrific (Lion King posters on the stage-right back wall – yes!) and set changes were smooth.

This musical has a fun, entertaining and positive book.  It was a terrific choice for a summer theater production.  Super Summer Theater has a well-deserved reputation for mounting quality productions, and “The Drowsy Chaperone” splendidly added to this standing.  Don’t miss it.

Rating: A+

Audience: All Ages

Dance in the Desert 2011

CSN’s Nicholas J. Horn Theater

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dance in the Desert 2011 presented a wide variety of technical skill and concepts in its opening night offerings.

The stand-outs of the evening included Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, Nevada Repertory Dance Theater and Noel Julian-Anker.

LVCDT ’s “Portraits”, in which each dancer portrayed a struggle with discrimination, featured the technical brilliance and fierce stage presence of Bernard Geddes and company.  Each dancer was riveting in his/her solo, and the group sections were complex and interesting.  Geddes, especially, embodied fundamental contrasts —  his movement was graceful yet ferocious, grounded yet dynamic, flowing yet sharp, soft yet hard.  Performers with this level of control, power and subtlety are simply stunning to watch.

Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater's "Portraits"

Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater's "Portraits"

NRDT’s “Moving Target” employed less developed dancers who, nevertheless, ably executed very intricate partnering and lifts.  Of significant note was the feeling of suspension during the lifts, which gave a floating quality to the difficult physical work of partnering.

Noel Julian-Anker, performing a solo choreographed by Festival Director Kelly Roth, was technically-accomplished and had an earthy presence with great extension and physical expression.  Her movements were controlled and precise, a satisfying piece that stayed in the mind’s eye after the lights went down.

Dancers in other pieces demonstrated a wide range of stage presence and training: some had a lot, others did not.  But they all took this performance opportunity seriously, and this reflected well on the festival.

Costume design, an important element in a dance festival, also ranged widely from very pedestrian clothes to  formal-wear to inventively-decorated unitards.   Dance is a very visual art and audiences emotionally relate to the costumes as much as to the movement and music.  To the audience, the more unique, flattering, eye-catching and style-specific costumes are, the more enjoyable and memorable a piece is.

There were a few costume faux-pas this evening.  Lynn Needle’s dress in “Haunted” was too revealing during her inverted positions, which was distracting to the nature of the piece.  The loose t-shirts and pants of Desert Dance Theater’s “Are We There Yet?” projected a dance-class impression, and seemed a neglected aspect of the piece.  The green unitards in NRDT’s piece, while practical for lifts, would have flattered the dancers and the choreography better if they had been cut differently.

Lynn Needle "Haunted"

Lynn Needle "Haunted"

Costume successes were evident, as well.  Business suits used in Roth’s “Resident Disturbances” gave the piece visual structure, and the uniqueness of the red unitard in Ms. Julian-Anker’s number helped define the mysterious character.  The formal-wear of “Portraits” reflected the historical significance of the characters, while the diaphanous dress worn by Ms. Needle emphasized her flowing movement.  Canyon Movement Company’s “Unwanted” dancers sported red ribbons tightly wrapped around their necks, and corset-like ribbons on their well-fitted costumes, giving a feeling of restriction, imprisonment or tight control.  This contributed to the story and character-development as much as the choreography.

This first night of Dance in the Desert provided interesting and varied styles and was a welcome artistic addition to performing arts in Las Vegas.

On a facilities note, special mention must go to the Nicholas J. Horn Theater.  With a perfect stage size, great lighting and sound, low ticket prices, not a bad seat in the house, and excellent parking, it remains one of the premier performance venues in the valley.