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++

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

Las Vegas Ballet Company, Kwak Dance Academy

Las Vegas Ballet Company, Kwak Dance Academy
Las Vegas Ballet Company and Kwak Dance Academy in performance May 28, 2011

Interview with Kyudong Kwak

June, 2011

I met with Kyudong Kwak, artistic director and founder of the relatively new Las Vegas Ballet Company and Kwak Ballet Academy, and chatted about the state of the arts and culture in Las Vegas, the challenges of starting a new business, his feelings about dance, and the ever-increasing hurdles to mounting a ballet performance in Las Vegas.

Andrea: Many people say there is no culture in Las Vegas.  How do you feel about that?

Kyudong Kwak: They are right!  For a city this size, there is very little culture, compared to other cities of the same population.  Las Vegas is quite large, yet has a surprising lack of visual and performing arts. I’ve performed in many cities and countries, and every city seems to have more cultural offerings than Las Vegas.  And other cities promote ballet and fine arts really well, so why not Las Vegas?  Las Vegas is the “Entertainment Capital of the World”, so ballet and fine arts would create more balance and give visitors and residents more options in entertainment than circus shows and other production shows.

I feel that this is a huge drawback for businesses, in that if a business is thinking about coming to Las Vegas, they hesitate because of the lack of education, first, and lack of culture, second.  More culture and fine arts will make the city much more attractive to people and businesses.  Kwak Ballet Academy and The Las Vegas Ballet Company will contribute greatly to the fine arts in Las Vegas.

A: Your academy and company only recently opened.  How has it been going for you?

KK:  Opening my own school was my dream.  But everyone thought we were crazy to try this, even our landlord.  We spent quite a few months building our classes up.  Our roster is now over 70 students, and I can finally exhale.  Word is spreading that we offer serious, classical ballet training and so now even professional dancers from the Strip are seeking us out for our training.

While we thought that opening a school was hard, putting on our first show seemed impossible, with everything that had to get done!  My wife and I did everything – choreograph, teach, tech, lighting, programs, posters, costumes, advertising.  And the expense for custom-fit costumes was enormous!  For instance, 16 pairs of handmade tutus for the dancers would have cost almost $30,000!  Luckily, our amazing tutu maker, Suzanne Dieckmann, generously taught the students’ parents how to make the tutus, so it only cost us $1000, for materials, in the end.  It’s caring people and volunteers like this that have made it possible for us to have our shows.  All of this reinforced for me that good relationships and good communication with everyone who works with you or helps you is priceless.

For many small companies and schools, the costs of costumes are so high that they can’t perform a classical repertoire.  But because of all the people who helped us out, we were able to offer a classical repertoire with classical costumes.

A: At what point in your life did you feel drawn to dance?

KK:  I found dancing addictive from a very early age.  I was always the first student to get to the studio, and I’d lock up the studio at night and put the key under the flower vase, since everyone else was gone.  I danced as long as possible every day.  I went to company class and trained from 10a.m. to 6 p.m., and then I would also go to the class that was open to the public, too.  I always wanted to dance more, go to more classes; it was the most fun thing to do.  Other people would go out to clubs or movie theater or do other things for fun, but I just wanted to dance all the time because it felt like the best thing in the world to me.

I met my wife in dance class when I was 17, and we’d go out for coffee after rehearsing all day.  We’d look at each other and ask “What do you want to do this evening?” and we’d both answer “go take another ballet class!”  We both love it so much!

Here at the Kwak Ballet Academy, I focus on classical repertoire, because I believe it is the foundation of dance.  If you train in classical ballet dance, you can go into any other form of dance later on, no problem.  Ballet builds your strength and technique, and you can use that to do anything else better.  It improves one’s dancing quality in every other style of dance.  That’s why classical ballet training is valuable for everyone.

A: When was your most recent concert?

KK: Just last month, May 28 at the Summerlin Library.  We had two shows that day, a matinee and an evening performance.  The student company performed “Glory”, an original work that I choreographed, and Yoomi Lee and I performed “Paquita”.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how we will do more performances, as the library has raised its theater rental rates by tenfold, recently.   It would cost thousands of dollars to rent the space, now, and there is no way that even a sold out show would pay for that.  Even smaller, older theaters in this area are charging so much to rent them that neither I nor any of the other small dance or theater companies can afford to rent them to present concerts.  We’ve all stopped scheduling performances. Musical theater productions, ballet and small dance company performances are gone, at this point – all gone.  Basically now there is no place for community-based performing arts to perform.   I don’t know how we will find a solution, but I will work hard to find one.  I want to give my students and company many chances to perform.