Monday, December 31, 2007

With 13 Plays Opening, Several are Hits!

Posted by Bruce Miller
The prevailing image of Broadway will always be the big musical. But within the last four months, 80% of the openings were straight plays instead of tuners. Yesterday we considered the thirteen non-musicals that opened or began previews on Broadway between Labor Day and Christmas 2007. By my accounting, that’s the largest number of non-musicals to open during Broadway’s Fall Season since 1980-81, when 18 plays debuted during the same time period.

But quantity, as we know, is not everything. If the fourteen plays are mostly turkeys, then who cares how many of them opened. From my survey of the reviews, several of the plays appear to be critical successes, and are still running to large and appreciative houses. I'm sorry to say that I've yet to see any of them personally.

The season started off a little iffy, but has been gaining considerable steam.

Mauritius, pictured to the left, was the first play to begin previews last September. It's also the only one of the thirteen to be penned by a woman playwright. After some significant Off Broadway and regional theatre success, Theresa Rebeck, whose day jobs have included staff writer for NYPD Blue, made her Broadway debut with this comic thriller about a pair of very rare stamps, the two estranged sisters who inherit them, and the three tough men who want them. Among the mostly favorable reviews, the NY Times loved the production and paid respect to Rebeck’s “homage” to David Mamet’s American Buffalo, only with “added estrogen.” Longtime Barksdale family members Tom and Carlene Bass saw the show early in its run and loved it. Mauritius closed on Nov 25, a victim, at least in part, of the strike.

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, pictured to the right, began previews one day after Mauritius. It's certainly not a new play—it’s among world theatre’s most beloved classics. Therefore much of the attention received by the production focused on the Broadway debut of Hollywood actress Claire Danes as Eliza Doolittle. Several reviewers were charmed by her, but more—including the NY Times—were less impressed. Moreover, the Henry Higgins of Jefferson Mays earned a lot of ink that was, for the most part, unfavorable. Nonetheless, the show completed its announced limited engagement and closed on Dec 16.

As if to disprove that cliché that says “the third time’s the charm,” the third show to open this fall was a third less-than-successful effort. The Ritz by Terrance McNally, pictured to the left, was a revival of an early gay-themed farce from the mid-70s. It ran for an unfortunate 69 performances, directed by Joe Mantello no less. The reviews were mostly negative, and the word of mouth was terrible for everyone except leading lady Rosie Perez, who emerged unscathed.

And here’s where things started to pick up. The fourth show to open was A Bronx Tale, written by and starring Chazz Palminteri, pictured to the right. The show originated Off Broadway in the late 80s and catapulted Mr. Palminteri into a film career, most notably appearing, unforgettably, in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. At age 55, Mr. Palminteri has now revived his 90-minute one man show about growing up in the thrall of crime bosses and a hard working father. From all accounts, he continues to knock ‘em all dead, critics and audiences alike, in this highly acclaimed crowd pleaser.

Next up – Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Kevin Kline (pictured to the left) and TV star Jennifer Garner. The great news is that all participants seem to be winning hearts in an attractive production that is packing ‘em in. Kevin Kline, not for the first time, is being called “world class,” and Jennifer Garner is almost universally coming out on top of the list of Hollywood starlets who have recently tried their hand at Broadway (Julia Roberts, Amanda Peet, Claire Danes). Even the NY Times gave the leads and the show a rave.

The Farnsworth Invention, pictured to the right, began previews on Oct 15 and its opening was delayed by the strike until Dec 3. But it’s still running and drawing crowds, even after mixed reviews. I’ll admit, I'm a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin, the writer of not only Farnsworth but also Sports Night, The West Wing and the recently cancelled Studio 60. I’ll probably love this show about the invention of television, and I’m rooting for it. The NY Times gave the show a less than enthusiastic review, comparing it to a wonderfully produced school science project. Everyone seems to admire the acting and directing, it’s Sorkin’s writing that’s earning mixed notices.

Well, I’ve made it through six of the record-breaking fourteen shows. We’ll discuss the remaining seven—including at least one super-hit—tomorrow.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Did Broadway Just Make History...or What?

Posted by Bruce Miller

Is it just me, or is Autumn 2007 going to go down in the record books as one of the most promising four-month periods for non-musicals on Broadway in the last several decades?

First of all, there was the issue of quantity—the subject of today’s blog post. We exited Labor Day with the promise of thirteen (count ‘em) plays slotted for a fall opening, and four musicals. When was the last time since the 70s that you saw a ratio like that?

The worthy entries in order of originally scheduled (pre-strike) first performance were:

Sept 13 - Mauritius, a new play by Theresa Rebeck, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club;

Sept 14 - Pygmalion, pictured above and to the right, a revival of the classic by George Bernard Shaw, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company and starring no lesser lights than Claire Danes, Jefferson Mays and Boyd Gaines;

Also on Sept 14 – a revival of The Ritz by Terrance McNally, also produced by the Roundabout;

Oct 4 – A Bronx Tale, pictured above and to the left, a somewhat revived, somewhat new play written by and starring Chazz Palminteri, directed by Jerry Zaks;

Oct 12 – Cyrano de Bergerac, pictured to the right, a revival of the classic by Edmond Rostand (didn’t you love the Barksdale production?) starring Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner and Daniel Sunjata;

Oct 15 – The Farnsworth Invention, pictured below, another brand new play by my favorite TV writer, Aaron Sorkin, about—what else—the beginning of television, starring Hank Azaria and Jimmi Simpson, directed by Des McAnuff;
Oct 19 – Rock ’n’ Roll, pictured to the left, a brainy transfer of a brand new play from London, by perhaps the world’s greatest living English-speaking writer, Tom Stoppard, directed by Trevor Nunn;

Oct 30 – August: Osage County, pictured to the right, the first of the two brand new plays named after months of the year, this one spawned at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, by Tracy Letts;

Also on Oct 30 – The Seafarer, another brand new play by the prolific Irish playwright Conor McPherson;

Nov 1 – Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, starring Michael Cerveris and Phylicia Rashad;

Nov 8 – Is He Dead?, pictured below, the world premiere of a newly discovered play by Mark Twain, adapted by David Ives, starring Norbert Leo Butz (when you’ve got a name like that you’d better be funny), and directed by Michael Blakemore;
Nov 23 – a revival of The Homecoming by Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter (all right, some will argue that he’s the greatest living English-speaking playwright, and David Mamet fans, wait your turn), starring Eve Best, Raul Esparza, Michael McKean and Ian McShane;

and last but not least, Dec 20 – November, by David Mamet (yes, some will argue that he's… and Edward Albee fans, you’ll have to wait until his 80th birthday in March to make your case), starring Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf, directed by Joe Mantello.

Now that’s a Fall Season that any true-blue theatre aficionado would salivate over. Then of course came the strike, which shuffled some of the dates. And as the plays opened, the assessments of quality were varied, to say the least.

But any way you measure it, it was a Fall Season to make you stand up and cheer. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about quality, which will give us even more to cheer about—and look forward to as we plan our winter/spring NYC theatre weekends.

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rambling Thoughts on a Running Theme

Posted by Bruce Miller

The playwrights from this year’s Signature Season are a somewhat diverse lot, but there’s a common thread that ties several of them together.

The late Carson McCullers (The Member of the Wedding) wrote with the distinctive voice of a young woman reared in a small Southern town during the 1930s and 40s. Ron Hutchinson (Moonlight and Magnolias) is an Irish-born playwright who came to fame in England and now lives in LA, working predominantly for the film industry.

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, pictured to the left) is a former Marine who was raised in the Bronx. His writing has earned him an Oscar (Moonstruck), a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize (Doubt). Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed) is a gay playwright who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and wrote the libretto for the current Broadway musical Xanadu, a re-make of the 1970s cult film. Beane is currently writing the libretto for the upcoming stage musical remake of The Band Wagon, now re-titled Dancing in the Dark.

Our summer musical, the great American classic Guys and Dolls, features music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (pictured to the right) and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Frank Loesser, born in 1910 in NYC, also wrote Where’s Charley? (produced by Barksdale in 2003), The Most Happy Fella, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the songs "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" and "I Don’t Want to Walk Without You" (currently heard in Swingtime Canteen) and "Baby, It’s Cold Outside" (recently heard in our Holiday Cabaret).

Jo Swerling (co-author of the Guys book) was born in Russia in 1897 and, as a child, fled the Czarist regime with his family, arriving in New York’s lower East Side via Ellis Island. Before working on Guys and Dolls in the late 40s, he was called to Hollywood by Frank Capra, where he helped to “polish” the screenplays of both It’s a Wonderful Life (recently produced as a radio drama by Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project) and Gone With the Wind (the re-screenwriting of which is the subject of Moonlight and Magnolias).

Abe Burrows (the other co-writer of the Guys book, pictured to the left) was a renowned radio writer and comedic performer, who went on to serve as “script doctor” for numerous Broadway and radio shows. Interestingly, Abe Burrows is also the father of James Burrows, the legendary television director of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and co-creator of Cheers.

As Moonlight continues its laugh-a-minute run at Barksdale Willow Lawn (I saw it again last night and it was GREAT), it’s interesting to follow the theme of the un-credited “script doctor” and re-write artist. In Moonlight, Ben Hecht, played by Scott Wichmann, is brought in to rewrite the screenplay for Gone With the Wind. Moonlight playwright Ron Hutchinson (pictured below and to the right) earns a very lucrative living doing the same thing today.

Discussing the movie industry, Hutchinson writes, “Now, as back then, in the last weeks, days and hours before shooting, there’s a mad scramble to finally get the script right. That’s where guys like Ben Hecht came in then and where guys like me come in today. In 25 years as a rewrite man, I’ve been parachuted into movie locations in places such as Morocco, Mexico, Australia, South Africa and really bizarre places such as Burbank.”

Carson McCullers (pictured to the left) has always given credit to her principal “script doctor,” fellow Southerner Tennessee Williams. Douglas Carter Beane (pictured below and to the right) is becoming somewhat of a specialist in rewriting the librettos of vintage movie musicals for contemporary Broadway audiences. And his real-life experience in which unnamed “script doctors” transformed the lead character from gay to straight in the Hollywood adaptation of his Off Broadway hit, As Bees in Honey Drown, inspired the comic story he tells in The Little Dog Laughed.

Both Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows were considered among the foremost “script doctors” working to polish other author’s work in both Hollywood and New York in the 40s through the 70s. In Deathtrap, produced by Barksdale at Hanover Tavern earlier this fall, the lead character of Sidney Bruhl offers to serve as a “script doctor” for a young playwright, citing the fact that George S. Kaufman (pictured to the left) served as his “script doctor” when he was polishing his first play. In his memoirs, Abe Burrows credited his success in the theatre to his work under George S. Kaufman, director of Guys and Dolls.

For many years, the expression, “Get me Abe Burrows!” remained Broadway shorthand for “this script is awful and needs an emergency rewrite.” Burrows himself downplayed his “script doctor” role in his memoirs. “I have... performed surgery on a few shows, but not as many as I'm given credit for. I've been involved in 19 theatrical productions, plus their road company offshoots. Only a few of these have been surgical patients. And I don't usually talk about them. I feel that a fellow who doctors a show should have the same ethical approcah that a plastic surgeon has. It wouldn't be very nice if a plastic surgeon were walking down the street with you, and a beautiful girl approached. And you say, "What a beautiful girl." And the plastic surgeon says, "She was a patient of mine. You should have seen her before I fixed her nose."

Of all our playwrights this season, John Patrick Shanley seems to be the only one who has little to no experience rewriting the scripts of others and/or putting up with others who are brought in to rewrite his work. Long may he wave.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wanted: New Blog-Writing Volunteer Intern

Posted by Phil Whiteway

Readers of this blog know that we’ve just said goodbye to our Volunteer Fall Marketing Intern, John Steils, pictured to the right. After fulfilling his three month internship, John has returned home to Walnut Grove, Missouri. We thank him for his positive attitude, his hard work, and his eleven (count ‘em, folks) blog entries. John did a great job for us, and we’ll miss him.
Now we need to find our next great Volunteer Marketing Intern to take John's place during the winter and spring of 2008, and maybe longer. We’re looking for someone who has a passion for theatre and writing, but no extensive experience or coursework is required. The perfect applicant(s) will be between the ages of 16 and 106 and able to spend between two to four hours per week—on their own schedule—researching and writing for the Barksdale Blog.

Our blog staff will discuss article ideas with the new Intern in advance, and the Intern will be encouraged to come up with ideas on his or her own. The Intern will have interview access to various theatre artists and administrators working on Barksdale productions. Blog posts will be written at home and emailed to a blog staffer, who will then edit the post to be in keeping with our blog stylebook and guidelines.

The Intern will receive byline credit on each blog post that he or she writes and we publish. The Intern can use his or her own name or a nom de plume, whichever he or she prefers. The Intern will also earn one free Barksdale and/or Theatre IV ticket to the show of his or her choice, pending availability, for each article that is submitted and published.

If you are interested in starting off the New Year with a bang, then please consider becoming a contributor to the Barksdale Blog. Applying is easy. Just send an email to … John Steils. He’s actually agreed to this one last assignment—helping us find his replacement. John can be reached at We look forward to hearing from you.

Until then, Happy New Year! And see you at the theatre.

--Phil Whiteway

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Posted by Bruce Miller
Christmas Day, 2007

As those of you who read this blog know, P. J. Whiteway was able to come home this Christmas. Tomorrow, Dec 26, he flies back to Iraq. As we celebrated last night at our traditional Miller/Whiteway Christmas Eve dinner, I couldn’t get this carol out of my head.

Christmas Bells
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth,
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn the households born
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

And in despair I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
“God is not dead nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day—
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

It's good to remember that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas Day, 1863 at the height of the Civil War--a war that Longfellow heartily opposed, as poets in all times are apt to do. Verses three and four aren’t often heard today, but they certainly provide the lyric with context.

And the war itself was not the only sorrow on Longfellow’s mind. His dear wife of 18 years had died 30 months earlier when her dress had caught fire and he had been unable to smother the flames. Their oldest son, Charles, was a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac and suffered life-threatening wounds only 18 days before Henry heard and immortalized those Christmas bells.

And yet, despite his personal and our national grief, Longfellow managed to follow verse five with verses six and seven.

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

May all of us hear … may all of us be that “voice.” May all our thoughts and hopes and songs combine to create that “chant sublime,” finally bringing peace back to our broken world.

Merry Christmas. And may God bless us every one!

--Bruce Miller

Monday, December 24, 2007

Congress Approves Historic Increase for NEA

Posted by Phil Whiteway
Four days ago, on Dec 20, something important happened—something I hope we all will applaud. In a lean budget year, the U. S. Congress passed the 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill which included a $20.3 million (16%) increase to the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest single increase that the NEA has received in 30 years.

The 2008 NEA budget will now be $144.7 million, equal to the annual budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities for the first time since NEA funding was decimated in 1995 under the Contract with America. The Contract, which was released by the United States Republican Party during the 1994 Congressional election campaign, condemned the NEA for funding “obscene” art. The Contract was written by Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Richard Armey, Robert Walker, Bill Paxton, Jim Nussle and John Boehner. Only Boehner continues to serve in Congress today.

To put this funding in perspective, Congress now allocates $144.7 million to the NEA in support of every nonprofit arts organization in the nation. That amounts to approximately $0.47 per capita. The Congress allocates $420 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, amounting to approximately $1.38 per capita. The Arts Council of England currently invests approximately $687 million annually in support of Britain’s nonprofit arts organizations, or $11.45 per capita.

This historic increase of funding to the NEA reflects years of advocacy to restore the Endowment to the funding levels it once had in the mid-90s. Thanks go to all arts staffers and Board leaders throughout Virginia who have been working hard for more than a decade to convince Congress that the nonprofit arts in America are worthy of support.

We will be writing to our members of Congress to let them know how the added funding for the NEA will make a difference in Richmond and Virginia. If you support 47 cents of your annual tax dollars going to support all of the nonprofit art organizations in the United States, we encourage you to write your congressional representatives to thank them for this restoration of funds to the NEA.

--Phil Whiteway

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Theatre and the Winter Solstice

Posted by Bruce Miller
The Winter Solstice—that about-face moment when days stop becoming shorter and begin becoming longer, that 24-hour period when the sun’s arc across the sky shows just how low it can go before it starts to ascend again, that astrological promise of rebirth—has been celebrated by every culture worldwide since prehistoric times.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice takes place between December 20 and 23, depending on where exactly on the planet you stand. In the Southern Hemisphere, it occurs sometime between those same dates in June.

Stonehenge in England and Brú na Bóinne in Ireland were both erected, at least in part, as
giant clocks to enable local residents to “read” the sun’s rays and know precisely when the winter solstice would arrive. In their ancient cultures, the winter solstice marked the time of the final feasts before the “starvation months” of deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered because there would not be enough to feed them during the winter, making this the one time during the year when fresh meat was available. Also, winter solstice marked the end of the fermentation period for the wine and beer that had been brewing since late spring.

The Christian holiday of Christmas was set on Dec 25 not because anyone knows that to be the actual date of Christ’s birth—no one does—but because Dec 25 was the recorded date of the winter solstice throughout Europe under the Julian calendar that held sway during the first several centuries AD. In fact, the Catholic Church banned the celebration of Christmas in December for centuries, believing it to be a pagan practice. It is only in the last several hundred years that Christians have universally embraced the celebration of Christ’s Mass in December, while assimilating numerous pagan rituals (the Christmas tree, yule log, etc.) into its folklore.

In Jewish culture, Tekufah Tevet is the winter solstice recognized by the writers of the Talmud. Ancient Jews believed that water kept in vessels during Tekufah Tevet, or any of the other solstices for that matter, would turn into poison and therefore must be thrown out. Among many Jews today, such dark superstitions have taken a back seat to Hanukkah, the Festival of Light.

In nearly every culture, theatre has always been a part of the festivities surrounding winter solstice. The Roman Saturnalia and Greek Poseidonia were two of the most prominent ancient winter solstice celebrations. It was during these festivals that the Greek satyr plays and the copycat Roman fabula (comoedia) palliata (stories in Greek dress) launched their ascendancies into popular culture. A Greek satyr play is pictured in the detail from an early 5th century wine bowl posted above and to the right.

These comedies highlighted role reversals among servants and masters and males and females, and explored just what might happen if social order were to suddenly turn on its ear. The comic debauchery that frequently ensued was meant to echo what might take place during that time of year when the nights were longest and the cover of darkness was most effective.

These Greek and Roman plays paved the way for the Commedia dell’Arte movement that changed the face of world theatre beginning in Italy in the 15th century. A recent commedia production of Goldoni's A Servant of Two Masters at the University of Minnesota is pictured to the left.
Our holiday productions of Scapino! in 2005 and Moonlight and Magnolias (running now through January 20, 2008) are actually perfectly in sync with the cultural history of winter solstice.

And what could be better than a few good laughs to get you through the cold nights of winter?

So as you celebrate your winter solstice holiday, why not do as the Romans did, and go to the theatre just for the fun of it.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, December 21, 2007

Oh Christmas Tree! Oh Christmas Tree! Look!! The Show I Did in '63!!!

Posted by John Steils

The good men and women of Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project—our dynamic initiative for senior theatre artists and audiences—are launching a new program. During the next several months, they will be working independently and with Barksdale’s artisans to create handcrafted Christmas tree ornaments to represent each of the approximately 300 mainstage shows that Barksdale has produced since its founding as Richmond’s first professional performing arts organization in 1953.

Simultaneously, we will all begin creating ornaments for each of the mainstage productions at Theatre IV and the Virginia Museum Theatre / TheatreVirginia, the two other great stage companies whose resources and energies contribute so much to make Barksdale the powerhouse it is today.

Eventually, all these ornaments will be hung each year on the festive trees located in the lobbies of our Willow Lawn, Hanover Tavern, and historic Empire performance facilities. Christmas and Hanukkah are an ideal time to remember and celebrate all the great professional productions that have made Richmond the theatrical capital of the region. Who knows, maybe other theatres will join in the project to create memory trees of their own.

During my three months at Barksdale, I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with many of the hundreds of theatre artists, Board leaders etc. who make up this landmark institution. Kevin Kilgore, Jacqui O’Connor, Essie Simms (she’s seen every B’dale production since 1953!) and many, many others have shared stories of the Tavern that have made the historic Barksdale come alive for me. Ford Flannagan, Gordon Bass, Terrie Powers and their pals have related stories that go back to Theatre IV’s founding in 1975, allowing me feel like I was in those touring vans myself. Did Jan Guarino really learn the entire score to Jubilee! while riding in the van on the way to a Newport News performance?

Sue Griffin, Meredith Stanley Scott (pictured with husband Alfred in the '70s to the left), Bob Albertia and dozens of others have shared their tales of VMT / TVA, keeping that company very much alive in the hallways, dressing rooms and rehearsal halls of Barksdale. Did you know that six of our current staff members, scores of our talented theatre artists, even our artistic director are all VMT / TVA vets? Shoot, the evening gown that Jan Guarino wears nightly in Swingtime Canteen was first created for and worn in Bubbling Brown Sugar at TheatreVirginia, and Jan herself starred in countless TheatreVirginia productions (in between those notorious van rides at Theatre IV).

You generous people in Richmond’s vibrant theatre community have had the good sense to combine and unite your passions to create a current company that thrives on all the strengths of the various companies that preceded it. That’s a pretty amazing achievement, and I don’t think there are many theatre communities that could pull it off. Pete, Nancy and Muriel (and Leslie Cheek, Robert Telford et al) must have been amazing people to have created the family you have become. Now, the three memory trees you are creating will represent their and your star-studded history in all its glory. You have my undying admiration.

Sadly, sort of, for me, this is my last blog entry. I came to Richmond at the end of September to be with my sister, who was seriously ill. The wonderful news is that she is now SO much better and I am able to return home. While I was here, Barksdale was kind enough to welcome me into the fold, and give this theatrical fish-out-of-water a temporary home. My part-time internship with the marketing department has been a lifeline for me during a somewhat stressful time, and I can’t thank you all enough.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I will miss you all, and I thank you for being the most amazing theatre I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Long may you thrive!

--John Steils

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Few, The Proud, The Toy-Givers

Posted by John Steils

Barksdale and Theatre IV have been proud to participate this year in the annual gift campaign of the U. S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, filling two giant boxes with holiday presents for needy children. The large empty crates arrived in the lobbies of Barksdale at Willow Lawn and the historic Empire Theatre (downtown) just after Thanksgiving. This morning, both containers, now filled to overflowing, were picked up by two of our nation's finest.

Many thanks to the generous staffers, theatre artists and audience members who made this campaign such a success. It’s just another example of the invaluable contributions made to our community by Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV.

Merry Christmas and a Past Due Happy Hanukkah!

--John Steils

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sketchy Behavior Makes Merry Masterworks

Posted by Bruce Miller
Do you ever wonder what performers do while they’re waiting in the wings? Here are two answers from the closing night of Home for the Holidays.

While anticipating their entrances at tables off right, our meistersingers were apparently less than riveted by the performances of their fellow songbirds. It was their fifth performance after all, and they had limited view.

From all accounts our vocal Vulcans allowed their eyes and thoughts to wander from the stage, finally finding some errant piece of trash and deciding to draft upon it a graphic storyboard for All Those Christmas Clichés. This beautiful Lynn Ahrens / Stephen Flaherty classic-in-the-making (that's Lynn and Stephen pictured above and to the left) was masterfully performed each night by Janine Serresseque. The Ahrens / Flaherty duo also wrote music and lyrics for Ragtime, Once on this Island, Seussical the Musical, and A Man of No Importance--source of Audra's song, Princess. Last night during the show, the cast created a visual homage to the evocative lyrics of All Those Christmas Clichés. Their artwork is pictured below.

Janine warmly amused the house with her “local” rendition of the song: “I’ve spent Christmas in Mechanicsville, Christmas in Midlothian, Christmas in Varina and Luray.” I don’t believe those noble neighborhoods are depicted in our cast-created artwork, but many of the Christmas clichés mentioned in the song are.
For a fun party game, see if you can locate: “a tree full of toys and tinsel,” a “wreath on the red front door,” “elves in the yard,” a “sentimental card dripping glitter on the floor,” “plywood reindeer,” a “horse-drawn sleigh,” “a turkey with all the trimmings,” “Johnny Mathis,” “perfect skaters,” a “fruitcake with sugar glaze,” “snow,” a “choir,” “candles in the window,” “chestnuts roasting on the fire,” “a house filled with noise and laughter,” “a street bathed in twinkling light,” “bells,” “drums,” “mistletoe,” “sugar plums,” “kids to tuck in tight,” and last but not least, “that guy in the bright red outfit.” I think five or six may be missing, but then I've never been good at these games.

Vigorous debate arose during the closing party as to whether or not Santa was still wearing his fur-trimmed pants. Hmm.

The second masterpiece created by our Michelangelos of melody—actually I think it was a single Michelangelo (or Michelangelette)—is a pen and ink portrait on cocktail napkin entitled “Crabby in the Front Row.”

Yes, dear readers, if you don’t know by now that actors notice each and every facial expression in the audience, then you don’t know actors. Only the purest of artistes—the ones who swear they never read reviews—will deny noticing and reacting to misanthropic pusses spreading gloom and doom down front.

The estimable Robyn O’Neill has long stated that audience members should have to audition for Rows A, B and C. And here’s why. Each singer, one after the other, was literally abuzz last night with chat about the “grouch on the front row.” Unbeknownst to those of us sitting behind her, an apparently discontent woman sat not three feet from our singers, glaring up at them all night long doing her best impression of Grumpy of Seven Dwarfs fame. No wonder her anonymous visage prompted this cocktail napkin characterization.
Time to turn that frown upside down, dontcha think?

So if you’d prefer not to be immortalized on disposable paper by the cast of an upcoming theatrical production, then SMILE next time you’re sitting within fifteen feet of the stage, or anywhere else in the theatre for that matter. At the very least, look vaguely pleasant. I can’t tell you how much we ALL will appreciate it.

And here's a fun fact to recall when trying to summon up that requested good cheer. The preliminary results are in, and it appears that you audience members for Home for the Holidays (99.9% of whom weren’t ill-tempered or cross) swelled the coffers of the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund by approximately $3,400—we’re still doing the final tabulation. That’s enough to make anyone happy, and a wonderful holiday gift to Richmond's theatre community. Many, many thanks to all involved.

Merry Christmas and a belated Happy Hanukkah!

--Bruce Miller