Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Broadway Weekend - Part II: NYC on a Budget

As I stated in Part I of this blog entry, my daughter and I had the chance to share a NYC theatre weekend a few days ago. We flew from Richmond to NYC, spent two nights at the Milford Plaza, saw four Broadway musicals (see our “reviews” in Part I, found below), and did it all for less than $705 each, which I think is a pretty good deal.

I’ll be frank—money is tight in the Miller family. I know, blowing $1,410 for a New York theatre weekend is extravagant by the standards of most of the world. But theatre is one of my passions; bonding with each of my kids is another. So, for me, it was money well spent.

And it was money carefully spent. It would be easy to say goodbye to over $2 to $3 K during a New York weekend, but we worked hard to control expenses while still having a terrific time. If you care about saving money too, here are a few budget strategies that we employed and that you may find useful.

Transportation - $195.60 for the two of us

I was sitting at my computer in January when Jet Blue sent out an email alerting me to a 3-day fare sale. The headline trumpeted “NYC for $49.” Now, of course, when Jet Blue talks about a $49 fare, they’re talking one way, before taxes and other airport fees. Nonetheless, this sounded cheap to me, and so I went to their website and began exploring exact fares for specific dates. I soon realized that flying up on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and returning Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. offered the cheapest flights. I then explored various weekends before finding the weekend of March 24. For whatever reason, if we flew up on March 24 and flew back on March 26, fares were only $29 each way. So I booked our flights. Our total airfare bill on Jet Blue, Richmond to JFK New York, came to $157.60 for two roundtrip tickets including all taxes and fees. What a deal!

The cheapest, quickest, and by my mind most relaxing way to travel from JFK into Manhattan is by AirTrain and subway. The shuttle vans are way too time consuming, claustrophobic and expensive. And who can afford a cab? The AirTrain / subway combo costs $5.60, if you do it right, and the trip takes about 50 minutes (30 minutes less than waiting for and taking the shuttle).

When you disembark from your plane, follow the signs for Ground Transportation. You’ll soon see signs for the AirTrain—follow them. Once you get to the AirTrain, take the train to Jamaica Center. It’s all very clearly marked and easy to do. You don’t pay for the AirTrain until the end of your AirTrain experience. After getting off the AirTrain, follow the signs to the NYC Subway, and just before going through the exit turnstile, purchase your MetroCard at the automatic machines that are just to your right. You can use your credit or debit card to purchase a MetroCard worth $24 for only $20 (saving 20%). $14 of that $24 will be spent paying for the two AirTrain rides you just completed ($5 each full fare, $4 each after saving the 20%) and the two subway trips you’re just about to take ($2 each full fare, $1.60 each after saving the 20%).

Once you have your MetroCard, swipe it to exit through the turnstiles, and then follow signs to the E train. Again, it’s clearly marked and easy to do. When you enter the subway station, you’ll swipe your MetroCard again, and then follow signs to the E train heading into Manhattan. Board the E train and you’ll have a comfortable and safe 30 to 45 minute ride into the city, depending on time of day. On Saturday mornings the ride is very quick.

I get off the subway at 7th and 53rd, because I like to walk a little before arriving at my hotel. But, depending on where you’re staying, you can get off earlier (Lexington and 53rd, 5th Ave and 53rd) or later (8th Ave and 50th, 8th Ave and 42nd). Wherever you get off, it should be a short walk to your hotel.

All told, our transportation expenses amounted to $195.60—$157.60 for airfare, $30 for MetroCards (you’ll see where the extra $10 comes in in a couple paragraphs), and $18 for parking in Economy Lot C at the Richmond Airport.

Hotel - $482.45 for the two of us

There are two hotels I use the most in NYC, because they are cheap (relative to other NYC hotels), clean and centrally located. They are the Edison on 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave, and the Milford Plaza on 8th Ave between 45th and 44th. If you know of other alternatives in or near the theatre district, please let me know. I’ve had hit-or-miss experiences in NYC using PriceLine, so I never use that service when going up with my family.

Again, a budget strategy is to book early. The later you wait, the more expensive the hotel rates will be. Also, the economy hotels in particular tend to fill up early.

If you book the Edison early enough, you can get a mini-suite (one queen bed and one sofa bed—plenty of room for my economy-minded family of four) for $225 before taxes and fees (high seasons may be more). You can get a room with one double or two twin beds at the Edison for $185. Rates at the Milford are more variable, and often slightly higher. We paid $239 for two twin beds on Saturday night, and $169 for the same room on Sunday night--go figure. The Edison is the hotel I go to first, but it usually books up before the Milford. One note about the Edison, on Friday and Saturday nights, the street noise coming from the late-night clubs on 47th Street can be really loud and last till 4 a.m. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday, ask for a room that does NOT have windows on 47th Street.

All told, our hotel bill at the Milford Plaza amounted to $482.45 for a Saturday and Sunday night stay, two twin beds in a nonsmoking room on the 23rd floor, including the extensive taxes and fees added to every hotel bill in NYC.

Theatre Tickets - $520 for the two of us

Because we were arriving on a Saturday morning, we purchased our Saturday matinee tickets for Curtains in advance using If you’re not familiar with this web site, you should be. It’s your best opportunity to purchase discounted tickets in advance. Our Curtains tickets were perfect seats, 9th row center orchestra. We bought them on for $81.50, which included a $3 per ticket service charge for ordering on line and a $1.50 per ticket theatre restoration charge. Regular price tickets are $114.50 if you order them on line or over the phone. So we saved 29% ($66 for the two of us) by using

But we elected to save more than 29% on our other tickets by purchasing them on the half-price TKTS line. When we arrived on Saturday morning, we checked into the Milford at 10 a.m.—yes, they had a room ready, which surprised the heck out of me. We then immediately got on the subway just outside the Milford’s door (8th Ave and 44th) and took the A train downtown to the second TKTS outlet at South Street Seaport (the C train would have worked just as well—just remember to follow the signs to Downtown). We got off the train at the Broadway Nassau stop and exited onto Fulton Street. Taking a right on Fulton, we walked a few short blocks to South Street Seaport, passing a Duane Reade pharmacy on the way. The closest ATM machine to the South Street Seaport TKTS booth is just inside the door of Duane Reade. Remember, the TKTS booths in NYC take cash only—no credit or debit cards, no personal checks.

The TKTS booth at South Street Seaport opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. On Saturday mornings, the Times Square TKTS booth sells only Saturday matinee tickets. However, on Saturday mornings the South Street Seaport TKTS booth sells only Saturday evening and Sunday matinee tickets. We already had our Saturday matinee tickets, so that’s why we headed to South Street Seaport.

To reach the ticket booth, walk down Fulton and cross Water Street. One block after Water Street, turn right onto Front Street and walk one block. The TKTS booth is on the corner of Front Street and John Street—just look for the line. But remember, the line at South Street is much shorter than the line at Times Square. We waited in line approximately 15 minutes and then purchased half price tickets for Grey Gardens on Saturday night and Spring Awakening on Sunday afternoon. Our Grey Gardens seats were great (rear orchestra, two seats off a center aisle), and our Spring Awakening seats were front row orchestra. That’s right, several times I’ve purchased front row seats at the South Street TKTS booth, because most ticket buyers don’t like to sit in the front row.

The best part of this particular TKTS booth experience was meeting the woman standing in front of us in line. She turned out to be a Williamsburg resident, and a subscriber to Theatre IV’s children’s theatre programs in Newport News. It was great to meet someone who not only knew and respected our work here in Virginia, but who was also a savvy NYC theatre lover. As fate would have it, we sat in the row just behind her and her husband that evening at Grey Gardens.

More and more Broadway shows now have Sunday evening as well as Sunday matinee performances, which I think is wonderful. To buy our half price Color Purple tickets, we left the Spring Awakening matinee at approximately 4, walked to the TKTS booth which is temporarily on 46th Street, stood in line for about 15 minutes, and then purchased our first choice of shows.

Each of our half price tickets was $56.50 (full price is $113) plus a $3 TKTS booth charge. All told, we spent $520 for the two of us to see four Broadway shows, including all service charges etc. If we had paid full price for the exact same tickets, and purchased them via the internet or telephone, we would have paid $925. In other words, by using the various discount opportunities, we saved $405 (44%). And we had great seats for each show, and saw exactly the shows we wanted to see. This is not always the case. This time, we lucked out.

Food – Approximately $210 for six meals for the two of us

You can go to NYC and eat great for a lot of money. Or you can make up your mind to eat modestly for a little money. Because we don’t have money, we usually choose Option B. Saturday lunch, we ate at the food court on the third floor of the South Street Seaport. My daughter the vegetarian and I shared a make-your-own salad and Broccoli and Chicken over fried rice. The meal was healthy and delicious and came to $13 with no tip. Saturday evening between shows, we ate at Food Emporium on 49th and 8th. The food here is also delicious and the selection is amazing. Our total dinner came in at under $20. You get the picture. Other cheap eateries that earn our support are the great little cafĂ© off the lobby of the Edison Hotel on 47th, the Evergreen (especially for breakfast) on 47th just east of Broadway, and Smiths, located just across 8th Ave from the Milford. Our one splurge was ordering from the vegetable, cheese and seafood anti-pasta bar at Bond 45 on 45th Street, just east of Broadway. We had a delicious Sunday evening dinner for around $50, including tip. And, as a former waiter, I’m a good tipper.
When you add it all together, I think we did well on keeping costs low.

Grand Total - $1,408.05 for the two of us; $704.03 each!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Broadway Weekend - Part I: The Shows

Every four months or so, my daughter and I go to NYC for our Broadway fix. About half the time my wife and son decide to join us. Truth be told, mother and son don’t love theatre quite as much as father and daughter. So sometimes we all join in each others’ favorite activities; other times we save money and split up.

This past weekend was the father / daughter weekend theatre trip. This blog entry is dedicated to the four terrific shows we saw together and loved. Coming next: Part II: NYC on a Budget. Now, on to the shows.

Our first show was the brand new musical Curtains, the last show to be written by musical theatre icons John Kander and Fred Ebb, the composer / lyricist team also responsible for Cabaret, Chicago, Zorba, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Happy Time, Woman of the Year, Flora the Red Menace, The Rink, The Act, and 70 Girls 70. This murder mystery comedy musical was originally created with book writer Peter Stone. After Peter Stone and Fred Ebb died, Rupert Holmes (of The Mystery of Edwin Drood fame) stepped in to finish the book and add additional lyrics.

The results are terrific. Both my daughter and I are glad we saw Curtains first, because it aspires to entertain, nothing more. And entertain it does. It was funny, tuneful, colorful and lively, with lots of clever plot twists and style. The book, score, cast, direction, choreography and design were all first rate. We laughed and tapped our feet and had a jolly old time.

Creating an endearing Boston homicide detective with a not-so-secret passion for musical comedy, David Hyde Pierce leaves Niles from Frasier far behind. When a talent-less and difficult leading lady is murdered during the pre-Broadway tryouts of a new musical, there are plenty of people who had good reason to have done her in. So the detective steps in to find the killer, and while so doing, lets loose with his inspired suggestions on how to turn the tarnished try-out musical into a Broadway-worthy gem. A fun time was had by all.

Our second musical was Grey Gardens, a new adaptation of a classic 70s documentary about two truly bizarre relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I found Act I, set in the 50s, to be an intriguing iteration of the poor-little-rich-girl story. But I felt somewhat voyeuristic in Act II, set approximately 20 years later. The show seems to indict society for ridiculing, ostracizing and laughing at those who have been set adrift by mental fragility and fate. At the same time, the show seems to prompt us to ridicule and laugh. I had a hard time feeling comfortable with the perspective.

My daughter had no such problems. She was fascinated by the entire show start to finish. We both agreed that we loved it, that it made us think and gave us lots to talk about. We both agreed that Christine Ebersole (she’ll probably win her second Tony) and the understudy for Mary Louise Wilson were terrific. We were both really glad we went.

Our third show was Spring Awakening, and we both LOVED it. Some people had told me that one or both of us might be embarrassed by the sexual content, but we weren’t. Based on the German masterpiece by Wedekind that I read 35 years ago in college, Spring has the distance and eloquence of a classic, while at the same time benefiting from the thrill of immediacy provided by the terrific score, the youthful cast and the amazing choreography. I’m the last one anyone will ever accuse of being hip, but I’ll dare to say that Spring felt very hip to me—and by hip, I don’t mean fashionable, I mean intelligent in a very 2007 context.

The acting, directing, choreography, book, music, lyrics and design are all brilliant, but none of them are showy. Instead of offending or embarrassing us, the overall tone of the show seemed tasteful to us both. Yes, there are instances of brief nudity, strong language, sexual content, and simulated sexual activity. But the show is about the dignity of man, and about how we can rob our children of their innocence by subjecting them to our own arbitrary and often mistaken moralities. Again, we had LOTS to talk about afterward, and what could be better than parents and children having opportunities to talk (without any creepiness) about adolescent sexual awakening? I’m being serious—it was very healthy.

Last, but not least, we saw The Color Purple, and it was the perfect show to end our trip. Yes, we both understood how critics could pick the show apart. An epic story with tremendous resonance is crowded into an evening’s entertainment. But it didn’t matter. We followed every moment of the decades-long story with no confusion. And in the end, this was the show that made me cry. Whereas Spring Awakening appealed tremendously to heart and intellect, Purple appealed to heart and soul. The soaring music, the inspired performances, the sheer size of the production and its themes—all these things combined to make us care. There was also a strong faith context that I found very appealing. In the end, when love validates everything, I was reaching for my handkerchief.

The interesting thing is that, after reading the reviews, I wouldn’t have gone to The Color Purple if my new London/Paris friends, Ron and Les, hadn’t told me how much they loved the show. Now I’m so glad we went. Of the four, Purple is the one that I think would be most successful at Barksdale.

So, we saw four very different shows and loved them all, for different reasons. Thank goodness we’re not burdened by the responsibilities of a critic. We can still immerse ourselves in shows, and love them without feeling like we have to find fault or instruct others on what they should or shouldn’t like.

I have no idea whether you’ll like each of these shows or not. But I’m happy to share our opinions, and I encourage you to get up to NYC for your own theatre weekend if and when you have the chance.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Highlights of Last Week

Posted by Bruce Miller
So much goes on every week at Barksdale and Theatre IV that it’s easy to let important programs sail by with little or no fanfare. Last week, for example, three modest but nonetheless gratifying theatrical events graced our stages.

On Monday, March 19, the incomparable Frances Wessells sent my spirits soaring. The two dances she staged as part of the Bifocals Vintage Variety program knocked my socks off. Frances has to be at least 80 years young—she was my dance professor when I was a student at the University of Richmond 35 years ago. Monday marked the debut of her newest work, and the reprise of a recent pas de deux. The first piece was one she choreographed for five beautiful senior actor/dancers: Lyde Longaker, Pat Lorimer, Ales Rowe, John Bailey and Vaughan Gary. She co-choreographed the eloquent and physically demanding second piece with Robbie Kintor, and she and Robbie performed it as well.

Her artistic spirit, creativity and agility were clearly in evidence in both pieces. Truth be told, I’m in awe of Frances Wessells. Both of her wonderful dances will be performed on tour along with Una Harrison’s mini-cabaret performance at senior centers throughout Greater Richmond until the end of the month, bringing uplifting artistic programming to countless performance lovers who can no longer make it out to see shows at Richmond’s theatres. Barksdale makes its Bifocals programming available to senior centers on a sliding fee scale. Everyone is served, regardless of ability to pay.

On Friday, March 23, the equally incomparable (and utterly charming) Betty Ann Grove shared memories of her four-decade career on Broadway with a rapt crowd of approximately 75 theatre lovers of all generations. For about 50 minutes Betty Ann shared stories, by turns hilarious and invigorating, and brought back to life the Broadway of a bygone era. At the end of her program, she sang an a cappella rendition of "Give My Regards to Broadway," one of the George M. Cohan classics that she and fellow cast mates immortalized in the original Broadway production of George M! You could have heard a pin drop and there wasn’t a dry eye, or an untouched heart, in the house.

On Saturday, March 24, film and TV star Barry Corbin (Urban Cowboy, Northern Exposure, One Tree Hill - pictured in upper right corner) joined Jennifer Massey, Erin Thomas, Justin Dray and The Dogtown Trio in the fourth annual Virginia Arts & Letters Live, co-produced by Barksdale Theatre and James River Writers in association with the READ Center. The brainchild of actress/author (and Barksdale favorite) Irene Ziegler, VALL features short stories by Virginia authors read aloud by Virginia’s top professional actors and accompanied by Virginia’s most magical musicians. If you missed VALL live at the Empire Theatre last weekend, you can catch it on Thanksgiving Day when the recording will be broadcast over WCVE-FM, your Community Ideas Station.

So why do we do it? With hit productions of Brooklyn Boy, Lyle Lyle Crocodile and Smoke on the Mountain all going strong last week, why pull focus by engaging in all this extra programming? It’s certainly not to make money—we lose money with each of these initiatives. It’s certainly not because we have too little to do—our 40 person staff works significant amounts of overtime as is.

The reason we engage in these outstanding programs is because both Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV have always been committed to community leadership. We have never been arts for art’s sake organizations; we have always been arts for the community’s sake organizations. Right or wrong, it is our commitment to community that sets Barksdale and Theatre IV apart from other regional theatres around the nation and from other major performing arts groups in metro Richmond. We’re proud of how we have always served in non-traditional ways.

Each year—shoot, each week—we internally debate whether or not our nonprofit organizations are well-served by our community commitment. Please join the debate by letting us know your thoughts.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, March 23, 2007

Those Pesky Theatre Terms- Part II

I greatly hope you all delighted greatly in Part I of Those Pesky Theatre Terms. Congratulations to the winner...oh wait...we didn't have a winner...or maybe we're all winners...who was it that said knows...but doesn't it just make you feel better to know that you are a winner? It surely brightens my day. I would say that we're all winners in Thespis' eyes, but that would not be true at all; he was quite a harsh...well...we'll leave that for another day.

So word of the day...that's why we're all here, right? Well, I certainly hope so...or perhaps we could talk more about that stimulating production of Equus with Daniel Radcliffe...

Word of the Day!
What is THAT?!
A. A compressive strain in the Earth's crust.
B. What you do with your hand when you're in college (and it's the end of the month) and trying to get that last french fry from that irritating crevice between the driver's seat and the console in your car.
C. A stage that has seating on three sides of the stage.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Betty Ann Grove to Recount Her Broadway Memories for Barksdale's Bifocalers

Posted by Bruce Miller
Acclaimed Broadway and Hollywood star, Betty Ann Grove, will be our honored guest in the Barksdale Bifocals Lunchtime Speaker Series, this Friday, March 23, at 1 pm. The Bifocals program is specially designed for senior theatre enthusiasts, age 55 and up, but everyone is invited to come and enjoy hearing Betty Ann’s golden memories.

I'm privileged to say that Betty Ann Grove is now a good friend to me and countless others in the Richmond theatre community. She's also one of the few Broadway luminaries to have enjoyed a career that spanned four decades.

Hollywood discovered Betty Ann first, and she became a national sweetheart in the 1949 hit TV series “Stop the Music.” Shortly thereafter, Broadway came calling. In 1950, Betty Ann replaced Lisa Kirk in the major role of Lois Lane / Bianca in the original Broadway production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, singing “Why Can’t You Behave” and “Always True to You, Darling, in My Fashion.”

For the rest of the 50s, Betty Ann returned to television to star in “The Bert Parks Show,” “The Big Payoff,” “The Red Buttons Show” and “Summer Holiday.” The 60s marked Betty Ann’s return to the Great White Way, where she starred in the original Broadway production of George M! opposite Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters. (Side Note: Betty Ann wore a beautiful couture gown to the George M! opening night party--a dazzling, sparkling, celery green dress with lots of pearls, a dress designed especially for her. I guess you can tell I'm not a fashion writer, can't you. Anyway, after George M! became a smash hit, Betty Ann neatly folded her beautiful dress in tissue paper and packed it away for good luck. Being the generous heart that she is, last year Betty Ann passed on her George M! gown to my 16-year-old daughter Hannah, who was on cloud nine. Hannah wore the red carpet fashion to the Fairy Tale Ball, and Betty Ann's gorgeous dress once again knocked 'em dead.)

In the 70s, Betty Ann appeared with Liv Ullman and a little boy named Ian Ziering (he would later achieve hot young stud fame on “Beverly Hills 90210") in the Broadway musical version of I Remember Mama. And in 1989, Betty Ann danced her way into the hearts of America in the Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hart’s On Your Toes, playing opposite the legendary ballerina Natalia Makarova and fellow Hollywood superstar Dina Merrill.

To Richmond’s great good fortune, Betty Ann and her late, beloved husband Roger came to live here in the 1990s. With Theatre IV, Betty Ann starred in the Irish comedy Da and the American classic The Music Man (pictured above). At Swift Creek Mill Playhouse, Betty Ann played the title role in Driving Miss Daisy and the singing matriarch in Smoke on the Mountain. We’ve asked her on several occasions to join a cast here at Barksdale, and we think we’re getting closer to the point where she’ll say “yes!”

Betty Ann’s entertaining stroll down memory lane will take place in the lobby of Barksdale Theatre Willow Lawn beginning at 1:15 p.m. The presentation is free-of-charge. We will have turkey, ham, cheese, rolls and all the lunch fixin’s one could desire for those who would like to join us for a make-your-own-sandwich buffet. Lunch and beverage service will begin at 12:45, for a breakeven cost of only $3.

So please join us at quarter of one, and then enjoy food and fellowship as we all listen to Betty Ann’s many wonderful stories about her star-studded adventures on the Great White Way.

--Bruce Miller

Smoke Cast to Appear at Poe's Pub

The talented bluegrass cast from Smoke on the Mountain, our hit musical at Hanover Tavern, has been invited to entertain at Poe's Pub tomorrow evening. If you're one of the many who are crying out to hear more from the "Sanders Family Singers," show up at Poe's at around 9 p.m. for another evening of good times and good tunes.

Emily Cole Bitz, who plays Denise (one of the twins; she's the girl - pictured above with David Janeski, the other twin; he's the boy) reports, "The term 'hodgepodge' can definitely be used to describe our set list. It should be a rockin' good time. Trust me, you don't want to miss the reggae version of 'Jesus Is Mine.' Lest visions of fire & brimstone deter you from coming, assorted non-religious songs will be performed as well! There might be a nominal cover. Hope to see y'all."

One of our goals at Barksdale is to connect with the community in an ever increasing number of ways. We're delighted that Poe's Pub sees fit to share the many talents of our amazing Smoke on the Mountain cast with their customers.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"This is Our Youth" - Fireworks at the Firehouse

Posted by Bruce Miller

I had the great good fortune to see This is Our Youth last Friday evening at the Firehouse. It was a terrific production. Youth was the first NYC hit of Kenneth Lonergan, one of my favorite currently-working playwrights. Lonergan hit the big time with This is Our Youth in 1996, and then followed in '99 with The Waverly Gallery (also produced by the Firehouse a few years back). In 2002, Lonergan wrote the Off-Broadway hit Lobby Hero, produced in Richmond shortly thereafter by Theatre Gym.

I admire all three Lonergan plays, but it was the 2000 film You Can Count on Me, written and directed by Lonergan, that really knocked me off my feet. It stars Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, and if you've never seen it, by all means rent it--as a follow up, of course, to going to see This is Our Youth during the next two weeks. Youth closes at the Firehouse on March 31.

This is Our Youth concerns three privileged, dysfunctional young adults who are struggling to find themselves in NYC during the Reagan years. Their dialogue and actions are profane and misguided, but their desperate search for purpose and connection in an alienating world earns our empathy and respect. At least it earned mine.

Morrie Piersol's direction is invisible, which is the highest compliment I can give it. The drama has shape and drive, to be sure, but you never see the director at work. What takes place on stage seems completely organic and in-the-moment, making the play all the more riveting--kind of like an accident that won't allow you to turn away.

Two young men from VCU's theatre program--Joe Carlson and Jacob Pennington--deliver wonderful, quirky, fleshed out performances. Amy Sproul, a high school student from the Appomattox Governor's School, keeps up with the men every step of the way. Less distanced from her upper-crust upbringing, Amy's character moves and talks with a social sophistication that the male characters have abandoned. At the same time, Amy the actress continues to let us see the little-girl-lost desperately reaching out for acceptance.

All of this makes the show sound despairing, and to an extent, I guess the characters are desperately seeking an elusive meaning for their lives. But the show is so much more than that. Please let me add quickly that it is also very funny, very smart, deeply poignant and thought provoking. It's the kind of play that gives you a lot to talk about for days to come.

There was an Acts of Faith talk-back following the Friday evening performance I attended, and one small section of the post-show discussion centered on whether or not there was hope for the characters' future. One audience member stated that she found little basis for hope. I felt exactly the opposite. My faith is of the progressive, inclusive variety, and I clearly felt the characters finding their hope in that most likely of all places--the friendships they shared with each other. Dysfunctional as those friendships may be, I felt in the performances of these three actors an extraordinary give and take of affection and need. The Bible says that God is Love. The love that these three floundering souls try so awkwardly and desperately to share with each other--in that love, the God I believe in is there. And that gives me every reason to hope.

Set, costumes and lighting were all well suited to the play. But it was the acting and direction that made this a wonderful evening for me. I went with my wife, our 16-year-old daughter, and two good friends from church. We all had a rewarding and entertaining night in the theatre.

If you like edgy contemporary theatre--and I certainly do--don't miss This is Our Youth. And keep your eye out for more from the three talented, adventurous and compelling young actors who bring This is Our Youth to such bracing life.

--Bruce Miller

Those Pesky Theatre Terms- Answer I

And the answer is...

(drum roll please...)

(Go ahead, do know you want to...)

(Yep...right there at your the drumroll...)

(You can make the sound with your mouth, or you can produce a slightly more authentic sound by alternating your right and left hands striking your desk...)

(Or you can even use your feet if you'd like...)

(Come on...a bit more...)

(There ya go!)

B. An opening, as in a stadium or theater (leading to and from the seating), permitting large, maybe 57864 , (or small, maybe 1) numbers of people to enter or leave.

[Please note the festive green arrows pointing to the two voms in Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn.]

More to come tomorrow!!! Keep checking in!

Barksdale On The Road (and Plane)

Phil Whiteway and I just returned from leading a group of 27 intrepid Barksdale and Theatre IV supporters on a ten-day tour of London and Paris. Here's a photo of our group standing in front of the flying buttresses at Notre Dame. Working hand-in-hand with our good and capable friends at Covington Travel, Barksdale plans annual trips to international locations with a theatre connection. For this time next year, we're planning a tour of Shakespeare's Italy. The Bard himself probably never visited there, but Italy was certainly a locale of choice when he was deciding where to set his plays.

This year it was London and Paris, and we all had a wonderful time. The group was exceptional--27 of the most fun, easy-going and agreeable people we'll ever hope to meet. We made lots of new friends, and enjoyed spending time with some long-standing pals as well.

Not wanting to bore anyone with "vacation slides," I'll comment only on one of the more interesting experiences we had. Several months ago, we booked great center orchestra seats for the new London production of Equus, which opened a few days before we arrived. And it's a good thing we did. Equus is now a huge hit, with the largest advance sale of any non-musical in the history of London's West End.

When the show opened to rave reviews, we were excited to have been so smart as to reserve our seats well in advance. The show, as many readers will know, co-stars Richard Griffith (last year's Tony winner for History Boys) as Martin Dysart, the role Pete Kilgore made his own in Barksdale's wonderful 1978 production of this 20th Century British classic. And prompting the greatest buzz, this new production of Equus also co-stars Daniel Radcliffe who is achieving international acclaim playing Harry Potter in the several films. Young Daniel is 17, and chose Equus as the vehicle he would use to break free from his Harry Potter image. And break free he does, appearing, as the script requires, completely nude for about ten minutes in Act II.

The good news is that Daniel Radcliffe does a great job. The bad news, at least on the day we were there, was that Richard Griffith called in sick, and we saw his understudy in the role. Now, those of you who see a lot of theatre (and I bless you for it), have doubtless encountered any number of understudies in leading roles. And I can honestly say, of the countless understudies I've seen, the vast majority of them have been outstanding.

But at Equus, I regret to say, we saw something I've never seen before on Broadway or in London. The understudy was not in any way prepared to play the part. In fact, about five minutes into Act I, the actor pulled a script out of his hip pocket and proceeded to read his lines from the script for the rest of the show. Also, he apparently didn't know his blocking. Lights would change on stage, and various characters would be left in darkness because the understudy playing Dysart wouldn't move to his appointed place on cue, and the rest of the cast was forced to work around his ineptitude.

At first I thought that perhaps the understudy was also ill, and we were seeing a last minute replacement. But such was not the case. The understudy we saw was the actor who normally played the stable owner, and so his photo was in the playbill, and his name was listed as the one and only understudy for Martin Dysart. He's the one we saw, unfortunately he simply wasn't up to the task.

Those of you who know Equus can imagine how damaging it is to the show for Dysart to read from the script, and give a fairly uninspired reading at that. The British gentleman who walked just in front of me as we exited the theatre at the end of Act II was livid. And I don't blame him. With a full house paying $80 to $100 per ticket, there's no excuse for actors (even understudies) to not know their lines.

I was pleased when I returned to Richmond to learn that when Steve Perigard had to step into Lyle Lyle Crocodile as an understudy for a few days during our absence, he did so having learned all his lines and blocking. It's nice when Richmond can succeed even as London fails.

And talking about Richmond successes, I saw Firehouse Theatre Project's excellent production of This is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan on Friday evening. More on that tomorrow.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, March 16, 2007

Those Pesky Theatre Terms I

Vomitorium (also known as Vom)

What is THAT?!

A. A large room, perhaps similar to one's own high school auditorium, where one might, upon imbibing oneself with an excess of a certain aqueous material, seek solace...or at least release, so to speak.

B. An opening, as in a stadium or theater (leading to and from the seating), permitting large, maybe 57864 , (or small, maybe 1) numbers of people to enter or leave.

C. The seventeenth letter of the Telisomgophorus alphabet [that which is used by the BBC's infamous Teletubbies].

Thespis' Little Helper (Those Pesky Theatre Terms Series)

It has been expressed that perhaps a little background, a touch of credentials, and the like may be desirable as I shower you with these delightful "Pesky Theatre Terms". I suppose we might be well-served to begin with Thespis. As you may have gathered, the word "thespian" is derived from Thespis. "But why?!" You may ask. Well, for one, he was the first winner of the Great Dionysia in 534 B. C. (But I won't bore you with the details of all that. For you eager beavers out there, feel free to Google and learn more. For the rest of you, suffice to say that is the greatest honor bestowed upon any actor in ancient theatre [somewhat akin to our modern Tony awards, but much more prestigious, although perhaps just as political].)

He also introduced a slew of incredibly delightful innovations: masks, costumes, make-up (and we all know there a great many actors that we do not want to lay our eyes upon lacking any one of those three things...except maybe Daniel Ratcliffe in that titillating revival of Equus in London's West End, which we can only hope will transfer to the Great White Way).

So that's Thespis. And then there's me. It seems that every great being must have an apprentice to carry on his/her work: Stanislavski had Uta Hagen, Batman had Robin, and George Sr. has George Jr. So now there's me. Here to carry on the great Thespis' work. "Thespis' Little Helper" and my little corner of the Blog World here on Barksdale Theatre's website. I hope you're delighted! I know I am.

So I hope you'll come back from time to time and take a bit of knowledge and hopefully quite a nice chuckle in our great, fantastic, sage series "Those Pesky Theatre Terms" !!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Welcome one and all to an exciting new chapter in Barksdale Theatre's online adventure. We have created this blog aka "The Buzz" to give you a deeper insight into every aspect of the company from the actor's starring in you favorite shows to the costumes, production peeps, interns, touring, special projects, directors, etc. You'll be able to get backstage access for it all. Posts will start arriving in the following weeks and we'd love input from all of you out there online as to what you would like to know more about. My name is Russell "Master of Blogs" and you can reach me at
ps. This pic from Cyrano de Bergerac is why perms went out of fashion for men, but check out those killer duds.