While the opening night of AN ACT OF GOD is not until November 2, we would like to invite you to meet The Almighty and Her two “wingmen” for a sneak peek at our PAY-WHAT-YOU-CAN Night on Wednesday, October 31 at 8:00 pm.
The Human Race Theatre Company enters its 31st season with the American premiere of composer/librettist Andrea Daly and lyricist/librettist Jeff Bienstock’s charmingly relatable and delightfully tuneful musical Legendale, an original story of a disillusioned gamer escaping the monotony of the real world by embracing the exciting camaraderie of the virtual world.
Twentysomething IT manager Andy survives everyday boredom and stresses by playing the titular online role-playing game even at his thankless job at Magnets “n” More. After all, in Legendale, Andy is the master of his domain, calling the shots and attempting new levels and challenges. In fact, the thought of winning a new competition with the grand prize of a million dollars and the title “Lord of Legendale” has him poised for greatness. However, when saddled with competing as a milkmaid (all other avatars were taken) his hopes are quickly deflated. But along the way, and from an unlikely source, Andy discovers the value of perseverance and self-esteem as romance and adventure spark refreshing possibilities.
Daly and Bienstock jump-started Legendale in 2015 when the show was featured in the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Works. Following a December 2016 workshop at the Human Race, it received its world premiere at Denmark’s Fredericia Teater. As it currently stands, the best attribute of the material, outside the realm of introducing musical theater to an untapped niche market, is its pop-infused if ballad-heavy score. Standouts include fantastic opener When We Play, introspective Dead Again, catchy anthem Lord of Legendale, striking duets Here and Now and Anticipation, and spirited Why Not Me? The score is splendidly orchestrated by Tony Award winner Bruce Coughlin (The Light in the Piazza, one of the most gorgeously orchestrated musicals of all time).
On the other hand, the book is underdeveloped. Andy is a likable focal point with palpable strife, but his scope is oddly limited. Whenever Andy is in Legendale, marvelously and inventively conceived by projection designer David Bengali (Dear Evan Hansen), the kookiness of the avatars and their situations only appeal for brief periods. As so, there needs to be additional investment in Andy and his backstory. Who is he? What makes him tick? What happened in his life pre-Legendale? He’s certainly more than a mere gamer and his journey should address matters greater than the fascination of online game culture. Perhaps the appearance of a Young Andy or Andy’s parents would better address any semblance of a past. Further, perhaps Andy shouldn’t live alone. It would be interesting to see his existence expand to include a roommate or an ex-girlfriend. Daly and Bienstock pepper their script with sound ideas recalling Dear Evan Hansen, She Loves Me, The Wizard of Oz, and Grey Gardens, but they’ve only begun to scratch the surface of millennials seeking connection in the digital age.
Nonetheless, off-Broadway director/choreographer John Simpkins, Head of Musical Theatre at Penn State University, brings Legendale forth with considerable style, skillfully contrasting the real and fantasy domains, particularly Legendale’s funny eccentricities. Simpkins’ entertaining, fully committed cast is also a plus. Max Crumm (Danny Zuko in Broadway’s 2007 Grease revival and Scott in the short-lived 2016 musical Disaster!) terrifically embodies the introverted, insecure and geeky Andy, conveying social detachment and the budding hope of relationship with endearing, nuanced finesse. Abby Church, perky and personable, engagingly captures the extremely specific vernacular and physicality of the Legendale universe as comical milkmaid-turned-fierce warrior Zelayna, Andy’s avatar and girl power sidekick. Rachel Flynn exudes lovely sensitivity as timid temp Beth, Andy’s co-worker who shares more in common with him than he initially realizes. Jesse Sharp, an exceptional Gomez Addams in the national tour of The Addams Family, supplies goofy charisma as grandstanding and devious Legendale creator Paul Jansen who particularly persuades Andy to join his tech-savvy team in Silicon Valley. (However, Jansen’s introductory number, I Make the Magic, could be cut.) Travis Mitchell is appropriately hardcore as Steve, Andy’s annoying boss. Nathan Robert Pecchia, Cody Westbrook and Colin Hodgkin, an excellently versatile trio connected to Wright State University, playfully appear in various roles from energetic gamers to freaky brain-craving zombie robots.
Scenic designer Michael Schweikardt’s efficient turntable in addition to a series of video and sliding panels propels the show’s cinematic fluidity, expertly heightened by John Rensel’s lighting design. Costumer Ayn Kaethchen Wood incorporates wardrobe from Denmark designers Anna Juul Holm and Lotte Blichfeldt, but her notable contemporary outfits are precisely true to character especially Andy’s casual attire and Jansen’s flashy pink jeans. Jay Brunner’s first-rate sound design, Heather Powell’s unique properties, and Gina Cerimele-Mechley’s vibrant fight choreography bolster Legendale’s fanciful aura. Music director Scot Woolley leads a remarkably solid and full-sounding seven-piece off-stage band.
Whether it’s the tale of a bachelor willing to give marriage a try or a group of outcasts demanding attention be paid, musicals about connection – to simply belong to someone or something or thriving to become somebody – will always have the power to resonate. “You’re alone. I’m part of a team,” Andy proclaims in a valiant moment of epiphany. “Opportunity is everywhere.” Like Legendale, Andy is still a work in progress, but it’s a pleasure watching him come to terms with the joys of being alive.
Legendale – A New Musical continues through Oct. 1 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $17.50-$50. There are discounts for select side-area seats available for $12 and $25 for all performances. For group sales, contact Betty Gould at (937) 461-8295 or e-mail [email protected]. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com. In addition, there will be Young Professionals Board Game Night Saturday, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m., and a post-show talk-back following the Sunday, Sept. 17 performance. For more information about the Young Professionals Board Game Night, visit the Human Race’s Facebook page at facebook.com/humanracetheatre.
Let’s talk TV. In case you hadn’t heard, reboots are the latest nostalgic trend taking pop culture by storm. In fact, a resurrected “Twin Peaks” is currently spooking Showtime, the Disney Channel repackages “That’s So Raven” as “Raven’s Home” next month, deliciously glamourous “Dynasty” will be rebranded for a new generation this fall on the CW, and plans are ongoing for Emmy Award-winning “Roseanne” to return next year to ABC or Netflix. At a time when investing in the untested comes with sizable risk, it is apparent producers are more willing to embrace tried and true projects, particularly derived from titles engrained in the psyche for decades.
One of those ready-made titles hoping to make big theatrical waves in the future is “Family Ties,” the popular sitcom (1982-1989) concerning the lovable and intellectual Keaton family from Columbus, Ohio. Starring Michael J. Fox, who won three Emmys for his portrayal of Alex P. Keaton, the show, created by Gary David Goldberg, brought relatable wholesomeness and humor to the table with entertaining political and cultural bite. Whenever he wasn’t perturbing his sisters Mallory and Jennifer, conservative Alex enjoyed a battle of wills with his ex-hippie, liberal parents Steven and Elyse. But at the end of the day, their bond always remained heartwarmingly intact.
“Family Ties” is the most recent TV property (now in the hands of CBS) being translated to the stage following a laundry list of classics such as “Cheers,” “Happy Days” and “I Love Lucy” among others. It has received a world premiere courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company at the Loft Theatre produced by special arrangement with Araca Media & Entertainment. Written by Daniel Goldstein, who helmed an exhilarating and underrated 2011 Broadway revival of “Godspell,” the one-act play borrows certain episodes from the series (most notably “The Real Thing” in which Alex meets his future girlfriend Ellen Reed) as the foundation to tell a fresh story of reunion, forgiveness and heartbreak. Set 20 years later at the Keaton residence circa 2008 (minus little brother Andy Keaton serving overseas in the Peace Corps), the tale centers on Alex’s homecoming detailing exciting news of a run for Congress as well as the announcement he’ll soon be a father. However, laughter and reminiscing ultimately gives way to tragedy, a pivotal component Goldstein doesn’t have a tight grip on. Alex’s arrival contains a great deal of odd insensitivity which seems illogical considering the play’s trajectory toward bereavement. In turn, a series of flashbacks doesn’t necessarily help set the proper groundwork for the play’s plot twist, leaving portions of the dizzying action confusing and perplexing. In many respects, Goldstein wants “Family Ties” to feel emotionally akin to “Next to Normal,” another tale of close-knit family dynamics and underlying sorrow, but it’s a precarious notion. After all, no one wants to feel cheated by conceptual trickery so a better grasp of how this show navigates its time traveling structure is imperative.
Nevertheless, director Kevin Moore, fluidly helming with an excellent awareness of sitcom sensibilities, assembles an enjoyably cohesive sextet paying fine homage to the essence of their familiar characters. Immensely charming Jim Stanek (who gave a definitive rendition of “Love, I Hear” as Hero in the 1996 Tony Award-nominated revival of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”) is a thoroughly engaging focal point as Alex, particularly embodying Fox’s quirky persona with energetic glee (notice the way he bounces atop the kitchen counter in true Fox fashion). As Elyse, sitcom icon Eve Plumb, the unforgettable Jan Brady of “The Brady Bunch,” skillfully interprets the speech patterns and tenderly authoritative spirit of Meredith Baxter-Birney while offering a solidly endearing portrayal all her own. One of Plumb’s finest dramatic moments occurs opposite Stanek in flashback when Elyse and Alex debate Alex’s decision to celebrate his 18th birthday with his buddies in West Virginia, a firm reminder of the importance of checks and balances between parents and children. Lawrence Redmond lovingly conveys sincerity and gentleness as Steven and is especially strong in a scene detailing how Steven’s views of fatherhood were affected by his emotionally detached dad. Thea Brooks (whiny Mallory) and Sara Mackie (lively Jennifer) establish an appealing sisterhood. Maggie Lou Rader, mesmerizing in three flashbacks opposite Stanek at his most charismatic, truly delights as Ellen, Alex’s eventual wife.
In addition, set designer Tamara L. Honesty impeccably recreates the Keaton home from the stained glass front door to the linoleum kitchen floor. Janet G. Powell’s contemporary and period attire admirably accent the play’s tone despite the script unfortunately not allowing many costume changes. John Rensel’s lighting design and Jay Brunner’s sound design are expertly rendered, particularly Brunner marvelously turning back the hands of time with radio-inspired finesse. The production also effectively incorporates “Without Us,” the beautifully melodic “Family Ties” theme song, and Billy Vera and The Beaters’ romantic ballad “At This Moment.”
Personally, I’d be head over heels if someone decided to dramatize “Little House on the Prairie,” “Felicity,” “Sex and the City” or “Downton Abbey” to name only a few. So, if you’re a longtime fan of “Family Ties,” I totally understand why you would want to take advantage of catching up with characters who feel like old friends. Just be aware the play is in need of a hiatus in order to determine a clearer, more focused path on the road to substantively fulfilling resonance.
“Family Ties” continues through June 25 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. The production is performed in 80 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $12-$40. There are discounts for select side-area seats available for $12 and $25 for all performances. For group sales, contact Betty Gould at (937) 461-8295 or e-mail [email protected]. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com. In addition, there will be a post-show talk-back following the Sunday, June 11 performance.
Famed opera diva Maria Callas, one of the most gifted performers of the 20th century widely regarded as La Divina, comes alive through a satisfying lens at the Loft Theatre as seen in the Human Race Theatre Company’s production of Terrence McNally’s 1996 Tony Award-winning drama “Master Class.”
Fluidly directed by Scott Stoney and set in the mid-1970s, McNally’s work provides a compelling, fantasized look at a voice master class Callas conducts at the Julliard School, based on actual accounts from her 23 sessions held during the 1971-72 school year. The strengths of her remarkable voice long gone having retired in the early 1960s, Callas resorts to teaching to sustain her as she molds the next generation hoping to reach her level of acclaim. In her eyes, artistry, discovery, expression, meaning, intonation, history, truth, and commitment are paramount. While instructing three aspiring singers, she engagingly reflects on her humble beginnings, formidable lessons, supposed rivals, topsy-turvy romances, and lauded roles. But above all, she stresses the importance of education. “You’re not in a theater,” she warns at the outset. “You’re in a classroom.”
Mierka Girten, a Cincinnati native and Wright State University alumna, fittingly embodies the cool, stern, opinionated, and intimidating bluntness overflowing within Callas’ superiority and influence. Sophisticatedly dressed by costumer Hyun Sook Kim in sparkling black attire accented with strings of pearls, Girten, who looks the part and, at 47, is roughly the same age as Callas when she conducted her sessions, astutely relies on vocal dexterities and mannerisms to capture the role’s dramatic sensibilities. As an actress living with multiple sclerosis and its complications, she navigates the role gingerly by using the script and holding notes throughout. Nevertheless, her acting choices are far from precarious, particularly in scenes detailing Callas’ fascinating coaching and the time she recalls her affair with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.
Wonderfully assisted by pianist/musical director Sean Michael Flowers as Emmanuel Weinstock, Girten shines opposite three fantastic vocalists. As confident tenor Anthony Candolino, the charming, sunny Blake Friedman, who appeared as tenor soloist in “Liebeslieder Walzer” with New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, dynamically interprets a portion of Puccini’s “Tosca,” which Girten guides with delightfully descriptive beauty. Singing Bellini’s “Sonnambula,” Jeremey Carlisle Parker, a Dayton native and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music alumna, brings personable unease and reticence to her endearing portrayal of timid soprano Sophie De Palma. Recent Wright State University alumna Cassi Mikat, tremendous last season in “Sondheim on Sondheim,” delivers another vocally thrilling performance as the flummoxed yet determined soprano Sharon Graham. Sharon’s shrewd choice of the letter scene from Verdi’s “Macbeth” invigorates Callas to the point of dissecting the piece from entrance to epiphany while conjuring her stellar Lady Macbeth at La Scala.
Stoney, briefly appearing as a stagehand, also assembles a first-rate artistic team including scenic designer Scott J. Kimmins (whose 17th design for the Race exudes the proper look and feel of an academic studio), lighting designer John Rensel, sound designer Jay Brunner, and the aforementioned Friedman as dialect coach. Projections are effectively incorporated as well when Callas recalls her past.
“How can you have rivals when no one else can do what you do?,” Callas colorfully questions. McNally’s striking assessment of one of the world’s singular talents is an insightful guide to grasping her legacy and the music she adored.
“Master Class” continues through June 26 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. June 15-18 and 22-25; 2 p.m. June 19 and 26; and 7 p.m. June 14 and 21. The production runs 2 hours and 10 minutes including intermission. Tickets are $40 for adults, $37 for seniors, and $20 for students. A “While We’re On the Subject” post-show talkback featuring special guest Thomas Bankston, artistic director of the Dayton Opera, will be held following the June 19 matinee. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com.
Cuteness abounds inside the Loft Theatre as the Human Race Theatre Company presents the second professional production of comedian Lewis Black’s comedy “One Slight Hitch.” The play’s Cincinnati setting is cute. The notion of a summer wedding is cute. A slacker ex-boyfriend provoking chaos is cute. A precocious teenager grooving to music on her Walkman is cute. But conceptual issues dampen this flimsy, problematic farce which transpires like an overlong “Saturday Night Live” sketch pushing hard for laughs and relying heavily on nostalgia for appeal.
Directed by Margarett Perry and written by Black roughly 35 years ago, “One Slight Hitch” brews its frenzy from the relatable vantage point of the Colemans, a close-knit suburban Republican family. On her special day, aspiring writer Courtney (Dana Berger) must choose between her just-came-into-town ex Ryan (Alex Curtis) or her super straight-laced therapist-fiancé Harper (Kyle Nunn). Courtney’s devoted, exasperated parents Doc (Brian Dykstra) and Delia (Rita Rehn) would rather her err on the side of caution (a.k.a. stability), but there’s something about bad boy Ryan that still fuels her fire. As wedding preparations reach fever pitch, and as Courtney’s sisters PB (Cecily Dowd) and Melanie (Alex Sunderhaus) attempt to make sense of the madness around them, Courtney has a life-altering epiphany that brings everything to a screeching halt.
Black, an Emmy and two-time Grammy winner who appeared on Broadway in his 2012 one-man show “Running on Empty,” knows a thing or two about sarcasm and timing having built his career on those comedic attributes. But right from the start his foundation is askew here. At the outset, the story is startlingly told from PB’s perspective as she joyfully reflects on all things 1981. Is a pop culture laundry list really necessary in the first five minutes? Also, and in addition to Black creating two oddly unfunny, momentum-stalling moments in which Doc speaks to Harper’s offstage parents, weak character development particularly hinders Doc and Delia from being anything more than an over-the-top, purely observational combination of confusion and mockery. Trouble is we’ve seen this before from the standard sitcom playbook. A husband frantically attempts to maintain peace while keeping close to the alcohol as his wife freaks out as if the world is coming to an end. And I can’t believe the consistently chipper Harper actually exits the stage twice to the sound of chirping birds. Cue laugh track!
Script quandaries aside, Perry’s energetic cast doesn’t contain any weak links, an absolute saving grace. The hilariously fussy Berger gives credence to Courtney’s frustrating dilemma. The charming, slovenly handsome Curtis conveys Ryan with an edginess suggesting his troublemaker tendencies and an endearing sensitivity proving why Courtney found him attractive in the first place. The bubbly Dowd, a Centerville High School junior who recently gave a breakthrough performance as Winifred Banks in Muse Machine’s production of “Mary Poppins,” impresses in her professional debut with a sweetly sincere and effervescent aura. Sunderhaus, a Wright State University alumna who appeared last season in the Race’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” injects sass and a tinge of sibling rivalry into her fetching portrayal. Dykstra, seen on Broadway in 2013 opposite Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron’s fascinating Tony-nominated dramedy “Lucky Guy,” effectively channels Black’s intonations and mannerisms. He also conducts the ongoing hysteria with ample vivacity despite his occasionally unrealistic gesturing. The hunky Nunn, a clean-cut, All-American epitome of an Abercrombie & Fitch model seen last season in the Race’s “Miracle on South Division Street,” delightfully contrasts Curtis, particularly shining when Harper attempts to diagnose Ryan in one of the play’s strongest and most revealing moments. Rehn, who appeared on Broadway in such musicals as “Nine” and “A Chorus Line,” relishes Delia’s madcap antics, but beautifully pauses the craziness late in Act 2 when Delia poignantly reminds her daughters of her courtship with Doc and the sacrifices they’ve made.
Ray Zupp’s attractively detailed set strikingly signifies the Colemans’ upper-class status. Janet G. Powell, having costumed “Steel Magnolias” for the Race last fall, eye-catchingly evokes the Greed Decade once more in amusing wedding garb for the ladies complete with huge bows and ruffles. John Rensel’s lighting notably spotlights Dowd in her narrative, music-centric duties. Sound designer Todd Mack Reischman (“Seussical,” “Big River”) returns to the Race to ensure the pulsating vibes of “Bette Davis Eyes” and “Jessie’s Girl” haven’t lost their allure.
In one of his many brainless retorts, Ryan proudly states, “I haven’t worked it all out but it sounds right.” His credo sums up the essence of this forgettable romp.
“One Slight Hitch” continues through April 24 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. April 13-16 and 20-23; 2 p.m. April 17 and 24; and 7 p.m. April 12 and 19. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $35-$50 for adults, $32-$46 for seniors, and $17.50-$25 for students. A “While We’re On the Subject” post-show talkback will be held following the April 17 matinee. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com.
Dysfunction reigns and happiness is fleeting within Tennessee Williams’1945 semi-autobiographical drama “The Glass Menagerie,” a powerhouse of a play currently receiving a lovely, attractively designed presentation courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company at the Loft Theatre.
Set in a St. Louis apartment in the 1930s, this potent saga of a disillusioned, regretful Southern belle stuck in the past and her two emotionally scarred children meandering in the present never fails to entice. In stark contrast to Williams’ equally marvelous “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a masterpiece primarily fueled by anger, violence and betrayal, “Glass Menagerie” mesmerizes with a gentler magnetism propelled by remarkable poetry and a powerfully relatable familial sting. As Tom Wingfield (Williams’ alter ego) looks back on his troubled life, specifically the squabbles with his overbearing mother Amanda, the overprotection given to his insecure sister Laura, and the pain of being abandoned by his father, he conjures memories which are entirely one-sided and purposefully askew. He opts for “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” because it is his most viable means of acceptance. It’s natural to suspect Tom was born to experience more than what St. Louis could offer which makes his ultimate decision to leave his family behind far from outrageous. Even so, he forever remains a prisoner of regret with no escape.
Pensively directed by Greg Hellems, the production is superbly led by Race resident artist Scott Hunt as the frustrated, soul-searching Tom. In one of his finest performances, Hunt, in his first non-musical role on the Loft stage, conveys a tremendous mastery of the text (and its beauty) along with a grounded sense of confinement and yearning which makes the character’s struggles so palpable. Race resident artist Jennifer Joplin, seen as the daughter of a political power couple in “Other Desert Cities” two seasons ago, is too young to be credible as an aging matriarch, but delivers nonetheless in terms of vigor, motherly concern and Southern charm. I would have preferred her portrayal to be more abrasively domineering (which perhaps contributes to the low-wattage electricity of her Act 1 exchanges with Hunt), but at the same rate, it’s refreshing to see this play tilt in Tom’s direction. The luminously expressive Claire Kennedy, a Wright State University alumna with numerous Race credits, dazzles as the introverted, awkward Laura whose passion for her glass menagerie is her only solace. Whether awaiting an autograph or opening a door, Kennedy fills every moment with a captivating, beguiling delicacy. In his Race debut, handsome Drew Vidal (recalling John Krasinksi of “The Office”) terrifically embodies the affable, smooth-talking Jim O’Connor (a.k.a. The Gentleman Caller), a high school alum of Tom and Laura who stops by the Wingfields for dinner only to awaken feelings within Laura she thought would never spring to life beyond her yearbook. Due to Kennedy and Vidal’s exceptional chemistry, Laura and Jim’s Act 2 heart-to-heart conversation by candlelight effortlessly evolves into the splendid centerpiece Williams intended.
Hellems’ first-rate artistic team, contributing authenticity and an evocative allure, includes scenic designer Eric Barker, costumer Ayn Kaethchen Wood, lighting designer John Rensel, composer/sound designer Jay Brunner, properties master Heather Powell, and dialect coach Deborah Thomas.
Surprisingly, “Glass Menagerie” marks the first time a play by Williams has been presented in the Race’s nearly 30-year history. Here’s hoping it will not be the last.
“The Glass Menagerie” continues through Feb. 21 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Feb. 10-13, Feb. 18-20; 2 p.m. Feb. 14 and 21; and 7 p.m. Feb. 16. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 70 minutes. Tickets are $35-$50 for adults, $32-$46 for seniors, and $17.50-$25 for students. Select side-area seats available for $25 at all performances. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com. Group sales: contact Betty Gould at (937) 461-8295 or [email protected]
Inside a suburban New Jersey hospital, the Baker family has come undone. Crisis brings them together, but what will keep them together? Playwright Michael Slade provides clues with wonderfully relatable authenticity and astute, unresolved ambiguity in his new original play “Family Shots,” an excellent, touching comic drama superbly presented in its world premiere at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company.
Recalling Nicky Silver’s comedy “The Lyons” coupled with the quiet sophisticated intimacy of Richard Greenberg (“Three Days of Rain”), “Family Shots,” deftly helmed by Race producing artistic director Kevin Moore, concerns the heart health of patriarch Sam (Randy Brooks), a plastics entrepreneur and frequent tennis player whose seemingly fit body has been driven to the breaking point due to Viagra. Sam’s fussy, self-absorbed wife Marsha (Colleen Zenk) and concerned, devoted son Aaron (Corbin Bleu) try to make sense of it all, but the unexpected quality time they now share and prize with Sam eventually opens old wounds.
Slade, in a refreshing departure from his dark, disturbing and polarizing dramas “Under a Red Moon” and “Gingerbread Children” previously presented by the Race, impressively turns his attention to more interesting, engaging themes of marriage and commitment. Sam and Marsha have been together 40 years. Aaron has only been married one year to retail salesman Malcolm Harrison (Adam Halpin). Creating two colorfully complex and contrasting relationships, particularly Aaron and Malcolm’s deteriorating journey involving the dangers of fiscal irresponsibility and casual flirting, gives Slade many avenues to explore that are ripe for compelling drama, especially since the action transpires in the uncomfortable confines of a hospital thereby fueling the need for venting emotions. It’s fascinating how Sam and Marsha have been rattled by too much love while Aaron and Malcolm, who believed they were ready for marriage, cope with the regret of not having loved enough. By and large, Aaron and Malcolm’s arc particularly contains some of the finest morsels of contemporary playwrighting you’ll find right now on a regional theater or NYC stage.
Bleu, who starred as energetic sidekick Chad Danforth in Disney’s megahit “High School Musical,” brings striking confidence and genuine warmth to the conflicted Aaron, a talented photographer humble enough to accept unglamorous assignments as he awaits a breakthrough. When it is revealed that Aaron’s sexuality troubled Marsha years ago and continues to bother his homophobic sister-in-law, who apparently keeps his brother from visiting even during a family emergency, Bleu expressively connects with anger, hurt and dismay. Overall, without resorting to flashiness or melodrama, he delivers a terrifically sharp, effortlessly magnetic performance solidifying his mature evolution as one of the most skilled actors of his generation.
Zenk, a three-time Emmy nominee as villainous Barbara Ryan on “As the World Turns,” is a flustered, worrisome joy brilliantly conveying the nervous agitation derived from accepting and embracing the unknown. In addition to marvelously describing the peculiar noises that arise when living alone in silence, Zenk never fails to reiterate the love Marsha feels for Sam in spite of their disagreements. It is apparent Marsha’s fragile world would surely crumble if she didn’t have her husband, her favorite travel companion and close confidant, by her side.
The remarkably understated Brooks, a TV and film veteran, is an amiable, comical source of stability amid instability. He is well aware of how vital it is for Sam to be grounded as a mediator as commotion swells around him. Brooks is basically confined to a bed throughout, but his down-to-earth presence and plain spoken insightfulness appealingly resonates.
Featured players Halpin, Arash Mokhtar as Sam’s cardiologist Dr. Patel, and Annie Pesch as Sam’s nurse Joyce truly shine. Compatible with Bleu and very strong opposite Brooks, Halpin delicately uncovers the disappointment and frustration dwelling underneath Malcolm’s chipper, materialistic Bergdorf Goodman façade. Mokhtar brings a gentle aura of suave charisma to Patel, who is attracted to Aaron but remains entirely professional. One of the play’s singular moments involves Patel and Malcolm examining Aaron’s photographs from opposite ends of Sam’s room fully aware of how much they adore the artist and his art. Pesch, in an earnestly kindhearted role reminiscent of Vivian Bearing’s dutiful nurse Susie Monahan in “Wit,” greatly supports Brooks with encouraging verve and sensitivity.
This stellar production, the best Race offering thus far this season, is expertly accented by Scott J. Kimmins’ efficient, revolving scenic design incorporating three platforms and two large walls beautifully showcasing photos at the conclusion of every scene, costumer Janet G. Powell’s fashionably modern attire, John Rensel’s proficient lighting, Nathan D. Dean’s first-rate sound design, and Sean Michael Flowers’ satisfying incidental music.
“Sometimes you have to talk. Sometimes you have to listen.” Sam’s important advice serves as the universal foundation for any productive relationship, any productive family. In order to grow closer, in order to be more understanding and forgiving of each other’s faults and imperfections, relationships must value correct communication. The road ahead for the Bakers will not be easy, but as long as there is love there is hope.
“Family Shots” continues through Feb. 8 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Tuesdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. The play is performed in 90 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $17.50-$45. Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or www.humanracetheatre.org.
Three generations of strong Southern women feud and reconcile against the backdrop of changing dynamics within the country music industry in “Play it By Heart,” a promising new musical still navigating its path as evidenced in its Human Race Theatre Company regional premiere at the Loft Theatre.
In this sweet but predictable tale, the legendary Jeannine Jasper (Trisha Rapier), a Grammy and Country Music Association winner with a spot in the Grand Ole Opry on the horizon, yearns for retirement to the chagrin of her overbearing, ruthless stage mom Naomi (Sharva Maynard). As mother and daughter wrangle, Jeannine’s irritated, spoiled younger sister Jamie Lynn (Kathryn Boswell) enters the equation with furious bitterness toward Jeannine. Even so, testy situations for the Jaspers stretch beyond the country charts when Billy Tucker (Paul Blankenship), Jeannine’s former flame, suddenly arrives after 20 years to rekindle their chemistry and plan for the future. Billy’s presence quickly releases painful memories which force Jeannine and Naomi to face the music they’ve desperately tried to silence.
Librettist Brian Yorkey (a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner for “Next to Normal”) conceives an effective dysfunctional family foundation and has a keen perspective for the marketing-driven essence of current country music (especially Jamie Lynn’s ascension as the latest country-pop sensation), but he peculiarly inserts familiar contrivances. In fact, a major plot twist didn’t produce any noticeable gasps from the audience at the performance attended perhaps because it was already a memorable jaw-dropper in the hands of Lisa Kudrow last season on ABC’s “Scandal.” It also isn’t clear what happened to the show’s villain in Act 2 following a dramatic incident involving Jeannine’s father Buck (Scott Stoney), and there should be less focus on Billy in Act 1 which can be replaced by more meaningful moments for the Jasper women to explore their complex emotions. Granted, one of the best musical numbers from the tuneful composing team of David Spangler, Jerry Taylor and R.T. Robinson is the feisty “Sorry!” featuring the ladies in a heated squabble at the kitchen table, but more attention should be paid. Considering the material already contains mild shades of “Gypsy,” I’d specifically like to see Naomi completely release the obvious demons within her inner Momma Rose by singing a substantial, no-holds-barred 11 o’clock number on par with “Rose’s Turn.” And, yes, this can be done with the elimination of Act 2’s unnecessary, testosterone-driven “Good Ol’ Boys.”
Nevertheless, director Kevin Moore skillfully establishes an authentic tone and brisk pacing in addition to assembling an appealing cast. Rapier, a pleasant vocalist seen last season in the Human Race’s production of “Next to Normal,” is an engaging center bringing credence to Jeannine’s frustration with familial concerns and past mistakes. The outstanding, tough-as-nails Maynard intimidates to the hilt as Naomi tries to keep her family together while elements of her world, particularly her financial security, threaten to dissipate. The radiant Boswell is effortlessly vivacious but grows fittingly intuitive as Jamie Lynn comprehends the weight of her existence. Stoney, fortunate to sing the beautiful title number, supplies gentle authority and tenderness. The charming George Psomas adds flavorful comic relief as Naji Habib, a fish-out-of-water music executive from Dubai overseeing Jeannine and Jamie Lynn’s recording ventures. Blankenship could loosen up a bit but his shy demeanor nicely contrasts the extroverted Jaspers. J.J. Tiemeyer schemes and deceives with sharp intensity as Robbie Wilkins, Jeannine’s tour manager. Tim Lile is wonderfully good-natured as Lyle Mount, Jeannine’s former manager. Christine Brunner and Cooper Taggard complete the cast very well in various roles. Brunner is a hoot as perky reporter Debbie Dean who has a funny breakdown late in Act 2. Taggard enjoyably partners with Boswell for “Do I?,” the catchy Act 2 opener choreographed by Megan Wean Sears with playful sexiness.
In addition to Sears, Moore’s first-rate creative team includes scenic designer Adam Koch (adeptly conveying numerous locales from an auditorium and hospital room to a bar and tour bus interior), costumer Christie Peitzmeier (particularly providing lovely gowns for the ladies and appropriate Western gear for the men), lighting designer John Rensel, sound designer Brian Retterer, and music director Nils-Petter Ankarblom who leads an excellently well-balanced onstage band that never feels intrusive.
At a time when country music is evolving beyond its roots and traditional demographics (Florida Georgia Line’s collaborative “Cruise” with Nelly marked a huge cultural shift), “Play it By Heart” runs the risk of feeling out of step in terms of reaching a broader, diverse audience. Still, this project warmly embraces the power of forgiveness and the importance of family, feel-good components likely to secure interest elsewhere following rewrites.
“Play it By Heart” continues through July 6 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are (Through June 29): Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.; and (July 1-6): Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 70 minutes. Tickets are $41-$48 (prices vary depending on performance date and discounts are also available). For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com or humanracetheatre.org.
Painful lies and political allegiances consume the dysfunctional Wyeth family of Palm Springs in Jon Robin Baitz’s compelling 2011 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama “Other Desert Cities,” commendably staged by Margarett Perry in its local premiere by the Human Race Theatre Company.
On Christmas Eve 2004, envisioned within beautifully stylish surroundings by set designer Tamara L. Honesty, the Wyeths are far from merry and bright. Republican hotshots Polly and Lyman fiercely clash with their liberal, emotionally scarred daughter Brooke, a novelist who plans to publish her scandalous “Love and Mercy: A Memoir” that startlingly reveals some unsettling truths about her privileged upbringing. More concerned with perception than reality, Polly and Lyman quickly scold and threaten Brooke, calling her characterizations of their friends “grotesque” in the hope she will postpone or completely scrap her plans. “You’d still be my daughter, but the meaning of it would change,” warns Polly in particular before planting a chilling kiss on her cheek that speaks volumes. However, Brooke finds favor and encouragement from her recovering alcoholic aunt Silda, Polly’s liberal sister, as well as her easygoing brother Trip, who has become somewhat of a black sheep due to his frowned upon association with reality television.
Baitz’s battle of wills, sometimes unnecessarily overtly political, is tightly drawn in Act 1 giving the audience a productive pathway into rooting for or against Brooke’s mission. Even so, he masterfully raises the stakes by fashioning a more engrossing Act 2 crafted around a secret that would destroy the family if the public ever knew. Carefully taught “how to control things” by none other than Nancy Reagan, Polly and Lyman ultimately risk everything to explain the cost of thriving, the ability to navigate among certain circles without blemish in order to fuel discretion and protect image.
An exceptionally domineering Kate Young and admirable Scott Stoney compatibly blend as the core couple whose scorn sets the action in motion, far more noticeable as a driving force here than the original Broadway production which tipped the scales in favor of Brooke (Rachel Griffiths, an alumna of Baitz’s terrific ABC family drama “Brothers & Sisters”) and Silda (a phenomenal Judith Light). Young and Stoney memorably partnered under Perry’s direction nine years ago in the Human Race’s splendid local premiere of “The Retreat from Moscow” (Young’s electrifying portrayal of a rejected wife remains among the best I have seen on a local stage) and their welcomed reunion is long overdue. Skillfully attacking her role with incredible nuances and an impressive proficiency of language, Young is a force to behold as Polly spews her opinionated, often politically incorrect views while ruling the roost. Stoney, in a less showy capacity, becomes too stiff when exuding Lyman’s rigidity, but amiably showcases the character’s softer side when revealing his genuine love and concern for Brooke.
Additionally, Jennifer Joplin brings intensity, compassion and wit to the tenacious Brooke in a solid portrayal effortlessly escalating to heartbreaking degrees when her dreams are unexpectedly shattered. As Silda, Sherman Fracher surprisingly stops short of taking her juicy role to sardonic, Edward Albee-esque proportions but provides apt comic relief and an astute understanding of her character’s familial disdain and discontent. Aaron Vega, humorous and impactful, turns Trip into an engaging, entertaining mediator.
“I don’t like weakness,” says Polly during one of her diatribes. “You can die from too much sensitivity in this world.” It’s clear the Wyeths may never recover from their self-inflected wounds. Thankfully, Baitz and the Human Race certainly make their journey rewarding and unforgettable.
“Other Desert Cities” continues through April 13 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 47 minutes. Tickets are $36-$43 (prices vary depending on performance date and discounts are also available). For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or www.humanracetheatre.org
We’ve got 2 pairs of ticket to giveaway for Other Desert Cities. To enter our drawing, just like this article, comment below on why you should win and fill out the form below. Contest now closed. Congratulations to Jamie McQuinn and Vicki Thompson.
This March and April, The Human Race Theatre Company is offering three theatre classes for Dayton-area adults, and two classes for young girls. The classes run 4 to 8 weeks and are taught by professionals in the theatre industry, including three Human Race Resident Artists. All classes take place at The Human Race’s Philips Creativity Center at 116 North Jefferson Street in downtown Dayton.
CLASSES FOR ADULTS
Human Race Resident Artist Kay Bosse teaches the craft of acting and auditioning in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere. Students will explore the vocabulary and techniques essential to understanding the world of the actor, and discover how to build a realistic and original character and the secrets to analyzing a script. Personal attention will also be focused on individual interests and exploration of media trends. This six-session class runs Mondays, March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31 and April 7, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. The class fee is $150.00.
Playwrighting – Level II
Playwright Michael M. London continues the instruction begun in this winter’s Playwrighting – Level I course. While still looking closely at the dramatic structure of a story, students will also focus attention on other aspects of storytelling and the building of a play. There will be a lot of writing, a lot of thinking, some mutual support from other playwrights, a fair amount of laughing, some tasty food at breaks, and a general atmosphere of fun and learning. Each playwright will have a goal of completing a one-act play that will be presented in a public reading. Playwrights will have the opportunity to hear their work read aloud by actors and prepared by directors. Prerequisite: Playwrighting – Level I or permission from the instructor. This eight-session class runs Saturdays, March 8, 15, 22 and 29 and April 5, 12, 19 and 26, 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.The class fee is $200.00.
Learning to read music has been compared to learning a new language, very daunting for many. However, if you can count to seven, you may find this process easier than you thought. Assigning seven tones of the scale to the numbers 1 through 7 allows for easier recognition of notes, intervals, chords and even keys. Lead by Human Race Resident Artist Scott Stoney, this course is designed to get would-be singers started on the road to reading music and hearing pitches. A bit of homework will be given from week to week. This five-session class runs Saturdays, March 29 and April 5, 12, 19 and 26, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. The class fee is $120.00.
CLASS FOR GIRLS
Human Race Resident Artist Katie Pees leads this month-long adventure in musical theatre where girls ages 8 – 12 work on vocal coachings, dance techniques and character development using songs and choreography from the Broadway hit Annie. Aspiring actresses will be ready to sing their favorite songs and dance like a star to “It’s a Hard Knock Life”, “Tomorrow” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” There will be a sharing session on the last day of class. This four-session class runs Saturdays, March 1, 8, 15 and 22, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. The class fee is $110.00.
Almost every young girl has a magical wish to become Cinderella and now they get to try on that glass slipper! Guided by professional actress and music educator Kandis Wean, students learn the gorgeous song melodies and lyrics of Rogers and Hammerstein’s current Broadway musical, Cinderella. Girls will kick up their feet with dance choreography that brings the enchantment to life as they strive to be a believable princess on stage. Students will perform a short show for parents and guests on the last day of class. This five-session class runs Saturdays, April 5, 12, 19, 26 and May 3, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. The class fee is $110.00.
Registration is required one week prior to the first class date and can be made through The Human Race Theatre Company’s website – www.humanracetheatre.org.
For more information on classes and scholarship opportunities for children, interested students and parents may contact Education Director Marilyn Klaben at (937) 461-3823 ext. 3132 or[email protected].
The Human Race Theatre Company was founded in 1986 and moved into the Metropolitan Arts Center in 1991, taking up residence at the 212-seat Loft Theatre. In addition to the Eichelberger Loft Season, The Human Race produces for the Victoria Theatre’s Broadway Series, the Musical Theatre Workshop series, and special event programming. The Human Race, under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Kevin Moore, also maintains education and outreach programs for children, teens and adults, as well as artist residencies in area schools, The Muse Machine In-School Tour, and summer youth programs. Human Race organizational support is provided by Culture Works, the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District, the Shubert Foundation, the Erma R. Catterton Trust Fund, the Jesse & Caryl Philips Foundation Fund for the Development of New Works, the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council, which helped fund this organization with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. The 2013-2014 season sponsor is the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation of the Dayton Foundation, with additional support from Jim and Enid Goubeaux, KeyBank, the Sam Levin Foundation, Premier Health, Heidelberg Distributing Company and Morris Home Furnishings.