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The hot musical Newsies, winner of 2 Tony Awards, is now playing at the Broward Centre. This high-energy production with a dynamic set and vibrant cast is the best musical seen in Ft. Lauderdale this year.

With elements of the stage productions Oliver and Les Mis, this Disney production focuses on New York City in 1899. It’s all about the kids who sold the city newspapers, thus the name newsies. The owner of a paper, Mr. Pulitzer (based on the real-life character) wants more money from the newsies, who go on strike and demand a rollback of the fees.

Organiser of the union is Jack Kelly, played by Joey Barreiro, a graduate of the University of Miami. His stage presence as a street-wise kid, combined with first-rate dancing and vocal abilities, is a beacon for the rest of the cast who follow suit with great performances. Kelly’s character is reminiscent of one played by James Cagney in a movie where he gives a stern talk to a troupe of young actors. In this case Jack Kelly projects his persona to organize people to form a union and eventually prevail over the big city bosses. Done convincingly here by Barreiro.

The Newspaper danceThe highlight for the ensemble cast is the famous newspaper dance, where they actually split a sheet of newspaper on the floor and do acrobatic dancing on the two sheets. An example of this at a special press performance is pictured here, along with many of the cast members.

In an interview for the Sun News Miami, Barreiro said he really wants to be a composer. “I’m writing a musical based on a Bach Fugue.” He explained that the great composer Johan Sebastian Bach created a fugue “that is like a mathematical structure. Mathematics in and of itself is beautiful but Bach made it sublime.”

His turn towards classical jazz music is all the more remarkable as he did not imbibe classical music from his earliest years. “My Mom raised me on Streisand,” he said.

The cast of Newsies, with Barreiro and Keene, centerI also had the pleasure of interviewing Jack’s love interest in the musical. Katherine is played by Morgan Keene, and she was hooked on Newsies before she appeared in it.

“I saw it on Broadway four times. I remember saying the first night I saw it that I wanted to play the part of Katherine when I get older.”

Her enthusiasm could not wait though, so at age 16 she auditioned for the role. She was too young then, but now at 18 she is perfect for the part. “I had a connection with it,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy!”

Keene says she is “way beyond where I expected to be at 18.” She may go back to college, maybe even to teach younger kids, whom she loves. But right now she is getting a different kind of education in musical theatre. “I’m learning everything by doing it here.”

Newsies tickets can be found on the website for the Broward Center.

Photos by C. Cunningham

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“When I look at the movie Bonnie and Clyde I see an actress who is so free in her work. It’s astonishing.”

Yes, Estelle Parsons, you are astonishing! Just shy of her 88th birthday, Parsons was given a lifetime achievement award by the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival this past weekend. After a screening of the 1967 movie she engaged in a Q&A with film historian Foster Hirsch, who described the film as a landmark in cinema. Parsons won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for it.

Hirsch noted two most unusual things about the initial reviews of the film. In the face of criticism from a public who clearly loved the movie, the New York Times fired its movie critic who gave it a bad review. The TIME magazine critic who panned it watched the movie again and “recanted his original review- the only time that has ever happened.”

Parsons was actually appalled by what the film represented in glorifying crime. “It’s quite terrible. I have a big social conscience and a high moral standard. I believe in the rule of law. When it first got to a scene of murder I was so horrified. I had no idea what sort of film I was in.”

The movie, Parsons said, “literally swept the entire world. It set the tenor of the times.” One element of this was the score, originally done by Charlie Strause. But the director didn’t like it, so he turned to the bluegrass musicians Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. “The lyrical score by Charlie Strouse didn’t give it the ping the Scruggs music did.” The most popular tune from the movie, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, was actually written by Scruggs in the 1940s.

The director calling the shots was Arthur Penn. Parsons said he and Warren Beatty, co-star of the film with Faye Dunaway, “would fight every day about what was going on in the film. The movie has the life that it has because of their discussions.”

One scene Parsons wanted to change was where she asked for a share of the loot. “I told Arthur I had another idea of how I wanted to do it. He looked at the rushes and said it was fine as is. That was the only time I tried to assert my creativity.”

The result was more than acceptable, as she won the Academy Award that year. Looking back on the real Bonnie and Clyde (not the glamorized versions in the film), Parsons described them as “folk heroes, but their lives were horrendous. But if the movie had been made that way it likely wouldn’t have made 2 cents.”

Parsons is shown on the red carpet with actress Romina Power, daughter of famed actor Tyrone Power. Miss Power was also at the Sunrise Civic Center for a screening of her new film, The Secret of Italia. She is shown posing with a glittery handbag that looks like a camera. Photo copyright C. Cunningham

The Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival runs through Nov. 22. The gala awards dinner with Ed Harris will be held Nov. 21 at the Diplomat hotel, and many films will be screened in the coming days. For details visit their website: www.fliff.org

 

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It was a very special Veterans Day at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. On hand for a special screening of a World War II documentary was Loretta Swit., who narrated the film. It was the perfect opportunity to give her a Lifetime Achievement Award, as shown in the photo. The evening was capped off by a M*A*S*H themed party at a mansion off Las Olas Blvd, complete with a dummy patient in a surgical tent, a jeep, and a helicopter buzzing the mansion.

In her introduction to the film Never The Same, about prisoners of war held by the merciless barbarian Japanese, Swit said she has met many POWs, "and they have changed my life. These extraordinary people- these heroes- give me such courage."

She put things in perspective by saying people should "stop complaining about the weather" and other inconsequential things they can't change. "That part of your life you are enjoying, you owe to these guys."

While the subject matter of the film is horrific, and on a par of evil with anything perpetrated by the Nazis, Swit said the film "is not going to depress you because of their mindset to survive. It's an uplifiting, spiritual film in that sense."  Never the Same features interviews with the few men who survived the Japanese prison camps, and voice overs by famous actors Swit was able to recruit for the film. These include Ed Asner and Robert Wagner.

Looking to the future, Swit said she is making it her mission to preserve the diaries and tangible memories of that period in human history. "I would love to have a museum just for POWs" she said.

 

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival continues through November 22, 2015. Visit their website for details: www.fliff.org.

Photo by C Cunningham

 

 

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Ft. Lauderdale began Veteran's Day in style with a performance by the famed West Point Glee Club at the Broward Center. They were joined in concert by the Symphony of the Americas under the dual baton of James Brooks-Bruzzese and Constance Chase, director of the Glee Club.

The cadets are a dedicated bunch. One told me in an interview that they spend 2 hours a day, four days a week, on their vocal duties. The average length of time spent in the Club by any individual member is three years, and its composition of 50/50 male and female. This is in contrast to the overall enrolment at West Point, which is about 6 to 1 male.

Chase gave a pre-concert talk about the program, which began with a piece by Beethoven, Consecration of the House Overture. The Symphony gave it a suitably strident rendition.

The Glee Club then sang two solemn selections, Who Are the Brave by Joseph Martin and Last Words of David by Randall Thompson. Chase said Martin, who has written many solo piano and choral works, visits Ft. Lauderdale quite often. Who Are the Brave "sounds like a series of statements, but it's not," she explained. Interrogatives form a major element of the work. The last line really answers the question about who is brave: "Those who serve all mankind: these are the brave." Brave veterans from all the branches of the military stood up at the Broward Center to be acknowledged during the Armed Forces Medley. The vocal projection of the Glee Club was hampered a bit by the acoustics in the hall; they were placed at the very back of the stage, and it seemed much of their power went up instead of forward, an issue that sound baffles in the ceiling should help to address.

The Martin composition will be part of a 15-minute CD being produced that will serve as a calling card for the Glee Club. Chase related that "When we performed it in front of a portable half-size version of the Vietnam Wall, a rainbow appeared over the Hudson River."  The Thompson composition shows a pronounced sensitivity to the text, and just before it ends with Amen the tenor voices seem suspended in mid-air.

Two European compositions ended the first part of the concert: Finlandia by Sibelius, and The Moldau, a homage to Prague and the Czech homeland by Smetana. Both are quite evocative of their countries of origin, the first often mistaken for the national anthem of Finland; the other being only the second of six epic tone poems that convincingly captures the swirling eddies of the Moldau river in a rich, sweeping melody done with finesse by the Symphony.

The concluding songs by the Glee Club, including Civil War favourites like Rally Round the Flag (sung spontaneously by a crowd after Lincoln's last speech), the Tenting song (banned by both sides in the Civil War as it gave away their position to the enemy), and the rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic served as a fitting tribute to America's Veterans Day, also known in Canada as Remembrance Day and in England as Armistice Day.

November 11, 1918. The day the Great War ended, 97 years ago today.

 Photos by C. Cunningham

The next concert by the Symphony will be Dec. 8 at the Broward Center. Visit www.sota.org for details

 

 

 

 

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Dating from 1972, the musical Something’s Afoot is now playing in Naples at the Sugden Community Theatre. The play only lasted for 61 performances on Broadway in 1976, but was more successful in London, where it ran 232 times. That is not surprising as the British public is more attuned the the basic premise of the play, which is an English country house murder.

This genre of literature (which has become even more prominent on the stage) is of course exemplified by Agatha Christie. Her most famous book, in its stage version, has been regaling audiences in London for decades. But this is not the Mousetrap. It is, however a musical spoof of another Christie book, And Then There Were None.

There is no need to relate the plot of this musical, as it is detailed on Wikipedia. The only question for the reviewer of such a production is: does it work? If you either like a spot of sherry, or a cup of tea, the answer is a definite yes. This is definitely for a sophisticated audience who enjoy the Charleston elements in the dance tune I Don’t Know Why I Trust You , or the double entendre in The Dinghy Song.

In this production, the sterling performance by the 17-year-old actress Brigid Wallace makes it all worthwhile. Her presence, form and dancing ability combine to create the perfect embodiment of the flighty blonde. Whether or not she turns out to be a mass murderer is left for the final moments of the play to reveal.

Beverly Canell as Miss Tweed (the embodiment of Agatha Christie) is superb. One has to be a really good actor to exaggerate the melodrama of the play at just the right pitch without going overboard. Carell achieves this and her performance keeps all the others in synch. The ensemble cast all deliver with a high degree of believability, which is not easy as the characters are nothing more than caricatures of Christie’s creations.

Here is a synopsis of the cast:

Beverly Canell is Miss Tweed, the self-appointed leader of the survivors and amateur detective, set on discovering who the killer is. This will be Beverly’s twenty-fifth show in her acting career. Her most recent credits with The Naples Players include the role of Ernestina Moneyin Hello Dolly, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (ensemble)and A Christmas Carol(Caroler).                                                                   

              Randall Jones plays black sheep nephew, Nigel Rancour.   Jones, no stranger to The Players stage, most recently starred in this summer’s production of Legally Blonde as Professor Callahan and in fall 2014 as Norbert in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Filling the shoes of retired military Colonel Gillweather is Kevin Kenneally who last appeared with the Players as Underling in The Drowsy Chaperone.                                    

 

              Making his Naples Players debut is Brent Nicholas as Clive, the Butler. Brent studied music at the West Virginia Institute of Technology and was a high school musical director in Morgantown, WV prior to joining The Players.  Dr. Grayburn, the family doctor, will be played by Matt O’ Hare who was last seen in The Naples Players production of Oklahoma! as well as in The Drowsy Chaperone and Gypsy.                                      

 

              Les Prebble will play Flint, the caretaker. Les, a Naples Players veteran, last played Duncan in The Naples Players production of Leading Ladies. Brigid Wallace takes the stage as Hope Langdon, the Ingénue. Wallace has had a busy year with the Players, last performing in the summer production of Legally Blonde, and shortly before as winsome farm girl, Laurey, in Oklahoma!                                                                                      

        Three Naples Players KidzAct alums will perform in Something’s Afoot.  Mary Mitchell, who starred in the KidzAct production of 42nd Street as Dorothy Brock and Cats as Grizabella will play Lettie, the saucy maid; Michael Pineda who last performed in the KidzAct production of Lollapalooza will play Geoffrey, a college student who becomes entangled in the web of mystery surrounding the murder; and Michelle Ritter will be playing Lady Grace Manley-Prowe. Ritter, who has been acting since the age of 8, appeared in the summer 2015 production of Legally Blonde as Enid Hoopes and previously in the KidzAct productions of 42nd Street and Cats. Ritter is a 2013 graduate of The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.                           

The Naples Players began in 1952, and moved to the prestigious location in downtown Naples in 1998. They stage some 220 performances a year and have a subscriber base of some 4,000. They have an exciting season of productions for 2015-2016. Current and future ones are:

The Foreigner  (Nov. 25-Dec. 20) is a comic romp about a pathologically shy guy.
Other Desert Cities (Jan. 13 2016-Feb. 7) is a witty satire about explosive family secrets.
Young Frankenstein (Mar. 2-Apr. 3) is a musical comedy adapted from the Mel Brooks movie.
The Dixie Swim Club (Apr 20-May 15) is a comedy about 5 Southern women.

All the above are at the large Blackburn Hall. The smaller Tobye Hall will be the venue for:
Spinning into Butter (Oct. 28-Nov. 21) a drama about racism in America.
The 39 Steps (Feb. 3 2016-Feb. 27) based on the Hitchcock film.
A Sleeping Country (Mar. 23-Apr. 16) a comedy dealing with insomnia.

Call the box office for tickets: 239-263-7990
website: www.naplesplayers.org

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Many thousands celebrated the Day of the Dead in Ft. Lauderdale on November 2, 2015.

It was opened by the Consul General of Mexico at the Huizenga Plaza, who spoke about important Mexico is to the manufacturing of everything from cell phones to car parts. This was followed by an invocation to the four directions and upwards to heaven. Mariachi musicians led a procession of enormous skeletons, such as the one shown here. It went west along Riverwalk and ended at Revolution Live, where music and dance performances from Latin America, and arts & crafts displays, kept the crowd entertained.

For more information on how to participate next year, visit the website of the organisers:

www.dayofthedeadflorida.com

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Oct 31, 2015: Some 20,000 people made the Halloween street party in Wilton Manors a gay event. The superhero Groot, shown at left in the photo below, Groot won first prizewon first prize for most imaginative costume.

Lots of hot muscle was on display too.

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The 14th Season of Chameleon got off to a sparkling start with the performance of very rarely heard compositions by Hispanic composers.

First on the program was Piano trio in E major by Tomas Breton that none of the three players was familiar with until very recently. This is not surprising since the music, from 1891, was out of print for more than a century. Only two or three recordings are commercially available.

Performers at this concert were Chameleon founder Iris van Eck on the cello, Dmitri Pogorelov, first violinist of the Kontras quartet, and pianist Dr. Silvije Vidovic, a lecturer professor at Florida International University, Lynn University and Univ. of Miami.

In an interview, Pogorelov said the Breton composition is “a very successful marriage of late Romantic music with a Spanish flair. The turn of the century was a wonderful time for Chamber music, and it’s great finding these jewels to perform today.”

The first movement, Allegro comodo, means comfortably fast. It exhibits elements of a quadrille and features a chromatically complex interplay between the violin and piano. The Andante is alternately delicate and robust, and would have made a suitable soundtrack for the 1936 film Modern Times starring Paulette Goddard.

The very fast scherzo is the instantiation of Romanticism, with the Spanish flair mentioned by Pogorelov. Both the cello and violin are called upon to pluck their strings several times. Imagine a sun-dappled garden of wild flowers, where the plucking represents the selected picking of only the finest blooms to create a bouquet. In the final movement the strings respond directly and effectively to an invocation from the piano. The violin then scales the heights to bring this extraordinary Piano trio with elements of the Dies Irae requiem to a close.

The audience barely caught its breath from this before Vidovic treated them to Ravel’s Scarbo from 1908, the most difficult solo piano piece ever written. At the beginning of the 20th century, Balakirev’s Islamey was THE most technically demanding piece ever written for piano. With Scarbo, Ravel decided to transcend Islamey’s virtuosity and write something much more difficult. He wrote it in this way to express the personality of the goblin Scarbo: scary, fast, unpredictable.

Vidovic told me playing it required a “completely different mindset” from performing the chamber music piece by Breton. Scarbo is a terrifying 8 minutes and 30 seconds, perfect for the Halloween season. It exhibits a moody tonality with an imminent sense of foreboding. Imagine being in a castle with Dracula- that is Scarbo.

Pogorelov (left) and Vidovic at conclusion of the concertThe program quickly dispels the gloom with the Spanish Trio by Enrique Arbos from the 1880s. It has a light-hearted, sprightly theme with enough formal elements to please a Spanish grandee, and its second movement would find a fitting place in a routine for Dancing With the Stars on TV.

The second portion of the concert began with a short violin and piano piece by Rodian Shchedrin that is redolent with vibrant delight. It led to the rarely heard Granados Trio by Enrique Campina, who died in World War I when his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.

Its first movement is marked espressione- with expression- and the strings take full advantage of this. At one point they are so chuffed with the melody they have just finished that both the cello and violin end it with an exclamation point. The movement ends on a delicate series of notes from the piano, and another self-satisfied pluck from both string instruments. Both the piano solo in the second movement and the gentle, calm and peaceful third movement are redolent of the Spanish life Campina was so expert at translating into music.

This concert reinforces my view that the best venue to hear intimate classical music in Ft. Lauderdale is the Chameleon Musicians at the Leiser Opera Center. The next concert is Sunday Nov. 29 at 3pm.

Visit their website for details on upcoming events: www.ChameleonMusicians.org

Photos copyright by C. Cunningham

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The famous Royal Room at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach begins a stellar lineup this week with Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch. Tommy Tune will peform for New Years' and Tony Danza will be there in February.

Here is the schedule:

 

Nicole Henry Nov. 13-14, 20-21

Nicolas King Dec. 3-5

Aaron Weinstein, violinist and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitarist Dec. 10-12

The Four Freshmen Dec. 15-19

Tommy Tune Dec. 31 and Jan. 5-9, 2016

Spencer Day Jan. 12-16

Steve Tyrell Jan. 19-23, 26-30

Carole J. Bufford Feb. 3-6

Tony Danza Feb. 9-13, 16-20

Melissa Manchester Feb. 23-27

John Pizzarelli Mar. 1-5

The Lettermen Mar. 8-12

Marilyn Maye Mar. 15-19

Jane Monheit Mar. 22-26

Will & Anthony Nunziata Mar. 29-Apr. 2

 

For reservations visit the website www.TheColonyPalmBeach.com

 

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Big Fish, based on the book and subsequent motion picture by Daniel Wallace, is a musical fantasy. Unfortunately the biggest fantasy is that this is a great musical. It is, in fact, a fish out of water.

Virtually every professional New York review of the musical, when it premiered in 2013, ripped it apart. A key to the problem is Andrew Lippa’s thoroughly mediocre score. Here is a sample:

Big Fish fails to forge the crucial connection between its characters and their fantasies. Not once did I feel that what I was seeing had been spawned by the teeming mind of Edward Bloom.” (New York Times)

“It's crushing to realize, early on, that this gentle, sincere, beautiful-looking show is deadly dull.” (Newsday)

“Where Big Fish gets stuck in the shallows is with its score, by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family). A brash musical demands you leave the theater wanting to buy the cast recording, or at least humming a song. Big Fish doesn’t. Similarly, the book by John August (the film’s screenwriter) crams in so many characters and subplots from the source material that most of the roles remain one-dimensional.” (NBC New York)

“The show is a pulseless bore. Apart from a choice hook or two, the score is stillborn, the lyrics so inert they’re tautological. The whole show waits on the music to move it; the music stubbornly refuses. It’s two and a half hours of near deadlock.”  (New York Magazine) 

Girwarr and Tanner in a tender love sceneThe musical is indeed a curious choice for Slow Burn Theatre to premiere their excellent productions at the Broward Center. Director Patrick Fitzwater, in his opening remarks on this major venue change for Slow Burn, said it felt like “a wedding, an anniversary and a birthday all in one night. This is the biggest show I’ve ever put on in my whole life.”

With a cast of more than 20, and some visually enchanting numbers, the smaller venue of the Amaturo Theatre at the Broward Centre was the perfect size for it, and the Slow Burn cast was welcomed by a near capacity audience.

All the performers hail from Florida, and special mention must be made of the lead performers and excellent vocals of Shane Tanner as the father Edward Bloom, Justen Fox-Hall as his son Will, and the beautiful voice of Ann Marie Olson as Edward’s wife. The actress playing Will’s wife was miscast. She was supposedly an experienced newscaster, but her persona was too childish for that. On the other hand Christopher Mitchell, who performed much of the play on stilts in his giant role, was a delight.

While the use of analogies and metaphor by Edward to let his son know what happened in his life is intriguing, it was not enough to keep such a long production from floundering, to use one of the many fish metaphors in the musical. The love story between Edward and his wife is actually the best part of the musical, and the actors do great justice to it. A better score and 30 minutes less is what is needed, but for anyone looking to a family night out, this is entertainment that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Big Fish runs thru Nov. 8, 2015.

ALL PHOTOS BY GEMMA BRAMHAM

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