Sunday, June 29, 2008

3 Cheers for Stage 1

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our good friend and colleague Chase Kniffen announced today in the Times-Dispatch the founding of Richmond’s newest theatrical endeavor—Stage 1 Theatre Company. Chase’s new nonprofit venture will be mounting local productions of the latest and most adventurous musicals—the type of shows that make it onto a Central Virginia stage too infrequently. Stage 1 will also fulfill Chase’s long-standing dream to be an artistic director of his own company.

Stage 1 will begin this fall with an advantage that most new theatres don’t have—its own home facility. The new company will be located at 9130 Dickey Drive in Hanover County, in facilities that it will share with the current tenant, Shuffles Dance Center, directed by Peggy Thibodeau. Chase and the Thibodeaus (Thibodeaux?) are building a 99-seat intimate theatre that will perfectly suit the small, sometimes edgy musicals that comprise the centerpiece of the company’s mission.

Brand new musicals are not unknown in Richmond. Firehouse, of course, has an admirable history bringing new tuners to town (Bat Boy, Austin’s Bridge, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the current Reefer Madness), and over the years the Mill has produced acclaimed productions of Urinetown, Floyd Collins and Songs for a New World when all of those shows were hot-off-the-presses and generating lots of theatrical buzz. The Mill also produced the World Premiere of Two Bits by Tom Width and Paul Deiss.

Richmond Triangle Players has a strong track record of producing regional premieres of Off or Off Off Broadway musicals, too numerous to mention here. Both Triangle and the Mill will be bringing Altar Boys to Richmond next season in two separate (and probably very different) productions.

One of Theatre IV’s biggest hits, Quilters, was new and unknown when it first opened in Richmond in ‘86, and Blackbirds of Broadway and Four Part Harmony were well received World Premieres at Theatre IV’s historic Empire Theatre. Barksdale created and produced Richmond’s most successful World Premiere musical, Red Hot and Cole, with book by Randy Strawderman, James Bianchi and Muriel McAuley. In 2009, Barksdale will stage the World Premiere of Mona’s Arrangements, a new musical by Bo Wilson and Steve Liebman.

Violet, Oil City Symphony, Falsettos, Das Barbecu, and Weird Romance were all new and hip when they regionally premiered at Barksdale in the 1990s.

But many new shows never make it here, and now, with Stage 1 devoting itself solely to new musicals, that’s about to change. Chase’s first season includes “tick, tick … BOOM!” by Jonathan Larson of Rent fame (Nov 7-22), Children’s Letters to God (a family offering from Feb 6-21), Normal (a show Chase has been dying to direct, Apr 3-18), and Summer of ’42 (Jun 19-Jul 11).

We wish Chase and his new company all the best, and can’t wait to buy our season tickets. For more info, call 427-7548 or visit

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Richmond High School Theatre Lover Takes Her First Trip to the Tonys

Posted by Lizzie Holland
As most of you know, the 62nd Annual Antoinette Perry Awards were held on June 15th at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. This year I was fortunate enough to attend the awards with my family, and it was so much fun! I am one of Barksdale’s high school theatre enthusiasts (that's me in the picture to the right), and Bruce asked me to write about the experience. So here goes.

(Note: Bruce nabbed all the photos from my Facebook and wrote all the bizarre captions himself, since I left for camp yesterday. All of the photos were taken at stage doors after I went to see the shows. None were taken at the actual Tony Awards. They don't allow you to bring a camera into the awards ceremony. Go figure.)

My dad and I have always joked about going to the Tonys and this year he was actually serious enough to buy tickets the day the nominations came out. (That's not my dad in the photo to the left. That's Mark Rylance, winner of the 2008 Best Actor Tony for Boeing-Boeing.)

I was so excited, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been watching the Tony Awards on TV ever since I can remember, now I was going to be a part of the whole experience. Here’s what it’s like to attend the Tonys as a non-famous person.

First we bought our tickets, which go on sale each year the day the nominations come out, which this year was May 13th. We got our seats online, but you also can get your seats by calling the Radio City box office. It was easy. We wound up in the front row on the top balcony, which was still close enough to get a good look at all the nominees (including Martha Plimpton, pictured to the right, Best Featured Actress nominee for Top Girls.)

I got more and more excited as we waited for the day when it was finally time to fly up to New York. We arrived at Radio City Music Hall at 6:30 pm. If you are a ticket holder, you must be in your seat by 7:00. The down side to having a ticket is that you have to enter the theatre on the opposite side of the building from the red carpet, so you can’t see any of the celebrities before the show. (After the show, however, you might be lucky enough to spend some time with Raul Esparza, Best Featured Actor nominee for The Homecoming.)

The whole theatre is two-thirds full by 7:30, when the pre-show starts. The pre-show is when the “not glitzy enough for prime time” awards are given out, such as Best Book, Best Lighting, Best Sound, and Best Costumes. True theatre fans know that these awards are just as important as Best Actor or Actress, but they explain that there’s no possible way to fit all of the awards and performances into the three-hour TV time slot. (That's Laurie Metcalf in the picture above and to the right, Best Featured Actress nominee for November.)

Personally, I thought the pre-show was the best part. Michael Cerveris and Julie White hosted the pre-show and they were hysterical. (That's Daniel Evans in the photo to the left, nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for Sunday in the Park with George.)

At 8:00 pm, the doors closed and the televised Tony Awards began. This year, the prime time show kicked off with the opening number from The Lion King. It was fantastic (and that means a lot coming from a girl who doesn’t prefer Disney musicals). Then Whoopi Goldberg took the stage and began hosting the awards!

If you have the right Broadway connections (like Brian d'Arcy James, pictured to the right, 2002 Best Featured Actor nominee for Sweet Smell of Success), I'm told, you don’t need to buy tickets to be inside Radio City on the big night. You can sign up to be a “seat filler,” which is free! The producers never want the TV audience to see an empty seat in the theatre, and Radio City is HUGE. Every time someone gets up to accept an award or go to the bathroom, a “seat filler” rushes in and temporarily fills the vacated seat. This is an awesome opportunity because you may get to sit next to some hotshot actor, director, etc., or perhaps their significant other.

However, from the top balcony, the job of "seat filler" looked very tiring. You get tired just watching the next-in-line “seat filler” jog down the aisle the second someone who was seated gets up (someone like Eve Best, Best Featured Actress nominee for The Homecoming, pictured to the left), and then have to leave the seat minutes later when the seat holder returns and taps them on the shoulder. At that point, the “seat filler” runs back up the aisle and gets in line all over again.

Ironically, once the TV cameras turn on, everything starts happening so fast … the cameras roving and the “seat fillers” running and the scenery shifting … the awards themselves became a blur. After it was all over, I couldn’t even remember who won what. On TV, it’s definitely about the awards and speeches. But in person, it’s all about watching the crew run around at the last second to make the magic happen. (Speaking of "magic," that's Jonathan Groff above and to the right, Best Actor nominee last year for Spring Awakening.)

Something that a lot of people keep asking me is, “What happened during commercials?” The answer is clips--lots and lots of clips! We saw many old Broadway commercials for past mega-hits, featuring the original casts of Rent, Gypsy, and Equus. My favorite clip was one about the “Broadway League.” This is a baseball league for the members of Broadway shows. The clip was a little dated because it had interviews with Mathew Broderick when he was still in The Producers.

When there were no clips being shown, everyone seemed to realize it was an impromptu “stretch break.” Lots of people, including stars (like Norbert Leo Butz, pictured above and to the left, 2005 Tony-winner as Best Actor in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), rose from their seats and greeted their colleagues while also stretching their legs. We in the galleries gazed down upon them.

It was very cool being able to see everything that went on off camera. Since there were three connected stages, something was always happening on one or both of the side stages while the crew was taping a performance on the main stage. (That's Mary McCormack, above and to the right, Best Featured Actress nominee for Boeing-Boeing, and star of the new hit TV series In Plain Sight -- is she having a good year or what?!)

All in all, the Tony Awards were great fun—a once in a lifetime experience. (And who better to experience it with than Christine Baranski, pictured to the left, two-time Tony winner for Best Featured Actress in The Real Thing - 1984, and Rumors - 1989, and currently hysterical in Boeing-Boeing.)

It was terrific being able to see everything that went on that was not televised. But beyond all the hubbub with cameras etc, there was not that much extra to see. I do recommend going though, especially if you can get cheap(er) tickets and don’t mind sitting in the nosebleed section. Next time I go, I plan, of course, on being nominated!

Now will someone please cue Kelli O’Hara singing Cock Eyed Optimist.

--Lizzie Holland

Friday, June 27, 2008

Word of the Week - SQUALL

Posted by Hannah Miller
This week’s theatre artist is the internationally renowned, Academy Award-winning film actress MERYL STREEP. This past Sunday, June 22, she celebrated her 59th birthday. Prior to her success in Hollywood, she was a highly acclaimed 26-year-old newcomer on Broadway. She thrilled her first NYC audience at Lincoln Center in the 1975 revival of the classic backstage comedy, Trelawny of the ‘Wells’.

Her Word of the Week is SQUALL, a verb she uttered and ably demonstrated during the 47 performances of her auspicious stage debut on the Great White Way.

Born with the given name Mary Louise, Streep’s first love was music. She made her vocal debut as a child singing O Holy Night in flawless French, perhaps foretelling her acclaimed ability to master any dialect. At an early age, she made plans to become an opera star and started vocal training at age 12.

As a student, she excelled academically but lacked confidence in social settings. This changed when she received a standing ovation as Marian the Librarian in her high school production of The Music Man. It was then that she “stopped feeling dorky” and was able to think of herself as a genuine performer. With new found self-assurance, she continued to act in many high school productions and ended up being named Homecoming Queen her senior year.

She studied theatre and English at Vassar, graduating in 1971. Wanting to continue her education, she enrolled in the Yale School of Drama and appeared in over 30 productions at Yale Repertory Theatre. She graduated with an MFA in theatre in 1975.

Her first big break came when she joined Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. Here, she had the opportunity to appear on Broadway not only in Trelawny of the ‘Wells’, but also, two months after Trelawny closed, in a double-bill of Tennessee Williams’ 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (pictured to the right) and Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays. Her roles in these two plays couldn’t have been more different. Critics commended her versatility, and she was nominated for the 1976 Tony Award as Best Featured Actress.

She made her television debut in 1977 in Secret Service, a filming of her next Broadway production, launching her extremely successful career in Hollywood. (Secret Service is a Civil War era spy story set in Richmond. Theatre IV produced the stage version of Secret Service in the Empire in the early 90s.) In 1978, Streep won an Emmy Award for her performance in Holocaust, a miniseries.

Moving on to the big screen, Streep played small but memorable parts in Julia (appearing with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave) and The Deer Hunter (appearing with Robert DeNiro). For The Deer Hunter, she earned her first of 14 Oscar nominations. She’s won twice. Subsequent film and television projects have included Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Sophie’s Choice (1982), Out of Africa (1985), The Hours (2002), Angels in America (2003 - and yes, that's Meryl in one of her Angels roles pictured above and to the left), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Mamma Mia! (now playing), Doubt (opening later this year), and 47 other productions.

First produced in 1898, Trelawny of the ‘Wells’ is a comedy about how English theatre changed during the 1860s, leaving behind over-the-top melodramas and farces in favor of more realistic “cup and saucer” dramas, paving the path for Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. During the final three decades of the 19th Century and the first three decades of the 20th, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, author of Trelawny and many other hit plays, was among London’s five most successful and popular playwrights. He was a leader in bringing realism to popularity in England, and is best known today for his two masterworks, Trelawny and The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.

Near the end of Trelawny, Streep’s character Imogen (an actress and aspiring producer) speaks this line in the play within the play: “Miss Harrington, bring your work indoors and hear me SQUALL,” an allusion to the melodramatic acting style being lovingly satirized.

Until scanning through Trelawny, I had always thought of a SQUALL as a storm. When appearing as a noun, that’s exactly what it is—“a sudden strong wind or short violent storm.” However, when used as a verb, SQUALL refers to a human action or trait that is storm-like. Its definition is “to scream or cry loudly and harshly.”

Whether squalling, whispering or murmuring gently in a newly mastered accent, Meryl Streep is believed by many to be the finest film actress of her generation. It would be wonderful to see her return once again to her Broadway roots. Until then, we can seek out the NYC performances of her look-alike daughter, actress Mamie Gummer (pictured to the right), who recently made her Broadway debut in the Roundabout’s revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

--Hannah Miller

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Word of the Week - BROMIDIC

Posted by Hannah Miller
This week’s theatre artist is the late and luminous Broadway orchestrator ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT, who won a posthumous Tony Award last Sunday, which was the 114th anniversary of his birth. Bennett was born on June 15, 1894, and survived a sickly childhood to live to the ripe old age of 87. His posthumous Tony Award recognized his incomparable contributions to many of the greatest musicals of the 20th Century, including the current Tony-winner for Best Revival, South Pacific.

His Word of the Week is from the lyric of one of the South Pacific songs he so memorably arranged. The song is A Wonderful Guy, and the Word of the Week is BROMIDIC.

If he knew prior to his birth that he wanted to be an orchestrator, then Bennett picked the right parents. His dad was a violinist with the Kansas City Symphony, and also an accomplished trumpeter. His mom was a piano teacher. As a toddler, Bennett contracted polio. His parents filled his hours with music. At the age of 3, he surprised everyone by picking out on the piano the tune to a Beethoven sonata that his mother had recently played. At the age of 4, Bennett and his family moved to a farm south of Kansas City because the doctor suggested that the rural environment would benefit his recovery.

While living on the farm, his father started a band and engaged his son as a sub whenever one of the other musicians was unable to play. Through these gigs and rigorous home schooling, Bennett learned to play pretty much any instrument he could get his hands on. When he was 15, the family moved back to Kansas City where Bennett found work as second violinist with the Symphony. He also played piano for silent movies, and various instruments with the pit orchestras of live theatres. When he turned 22, he collected all his savings and moved to New York with a total of $200 in his pocket.

Once in Manhattan, Bennett earned his keep playing in dance halls and restaurants. He also landed a job as a copyist with the music publishing house of G. Schirmer. At the start of WWI, he volunteered for the Army. Due to a crippled foot (the last vestiges of his childhood polio), he was not sent overseas. He was assigned to Camp Funston, Kansas, and named director of the 70th Infantry Band. When the war ended, Bennett returned to New York.

In 1919, he was hired to provide music lessons at one of NYC’s prestigious finishing schools. He applied for work in Tin Pan Alley, the center of New York’s world-famous music publishing business. He was given the chance to audition at T. B. Harms, the firm that sat at the top of the Tin Pan Alley heap. The orchestration he created during his “audition” was for Cole Porter’s An Old Fashioned Garden. It wound up becoming the biggest pop music hit of 1919.

As might be expected, Bennett won the job of orchestrator at T. B. Harms. That same year, he married Louise Merrill, the daughter of the prominent society woman who was the headmistress of the finishing school where he worked. Bennett and his wife had one daughter, Jean, born in 1920.

Early in his career at T. B. Harms, Bennett was asked to orchestrate not just single songs, but entire musical theatre scores. Over the subsequent 45 years, he would work with almost every major Broadway composer of his lifetime, contributing to over 300 shows.

His credits included orchestrations for Rose Marie (Rudolph Friml – composer, 1924), No No Nanette (Vincent Youmans, 1925), Show Boat (Jerome Kern, 1927), Of Thee I Sing and Porgy and Bess (George Gershwin, 1931 and 1935), Anything Goes (Cole Porter, 1934), Annie Get Your Gun (Irving Berlin, 1936), Lady in the Dark (Kurt Weill, 1941), Oklahoma and Carousel (Richard Rodgers, 1943 and 1945), Finian’s Rainbow (Burton Lane, 1947), Kiss Me Kate (Cole Porter, 1948), South Pacific and The King and I (Richard Rodgers, 1949 and 1951), My Fair Lady (Fritz Loewe, 1956), Bells are Ringing (Jule Styne, 1956), Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music (Richard Rodgers, 1958 and 1959), Camelot (Fritz Loewe, 1960), and On a Clear Day … (Burton Lane, 1965).

About Bennett, Richard Rodgers wrote, “I give him [the credit] without undue modesty, for making my music sound better than it was.”

In South Pacific, Bennett orchestrated Richard Rodgers’ beautiful score, capturing the exotic harmonies of the Pacific islands and the corn-fed American exuberance of the young men and women stationed there with the U. S. Navy during World War II. The brilliant lyrics were by Oscar Hammerstein II.

In A Wonderful Guy, Ensign Nellie Forbush, a Navy nurse, sings about her unabashed love for the expatriate French planter Emile de Becque. The photo to the right shows Kelli O'Hara singing A Wonderful Guy in the current Broadway revival.

"I'm as trite and as gay as a daisy in May,
A cliché coming true!
I'm BROMIDIC and bright as a moon-happy night,
Pouring light on the dew!"

BROMIDIC seems to have firmly entered the language by 1913, at least that’s when the word BROMIDE first appeared in Webster dictionaries. In the war era of South Pacific, BROMIDE was readily recognized to have three related but different definitions:
1. any of the salts of hydrobromic acid, used as a sedative; or
2. a person who is conventional and commonplace in his habits of thought and conversation; or
3. a conventional or trite saying, a boring cliché.

The root syllable brom means dullness of mind. Based on the above three definitions, BROMIDIC would mean:
1. like a medicine that causes dullness of mind, or
2. like a person who has a certain dullness of mind, or
3. like a saying that prompts dullness of mind in the listener.

In his 1906 book, Are You a BROMIDE?, the author, art critic and social commentator Gelett Burgess wrote, “The BROMIDE conforms to everything sanctioned by the majority, and may be depended upon to be trite, banal, and arbitrary.”

Nellie Forbush, when she refuses to marry Emile de Becque because he is older and “foreign,” certainly fits Burgess’s definition of BROMIDIC.

Robert Russell Bennett, never BROMIDIC in the least, lived a full life, continuing to orchestrate and compose until his death. He was commissioned to write several symphonic pieces for our nation’s bicentennial in 1976. He died of cancer in 1981. The great choral director Robert Shaw wrote, “And it is just as certainly because of his kindness, honesty, humor, and wisdom that our hearts are warmed to see Robert Russell Bennett without peer in his field.”

--Posted by Hannah Miller

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Solomon Islands

Posted by Bruce Miller
So did you see Jerold Solomon on the Tony Awards last Sunday? He was there, singing and dancing his heart out as one of the Navy SeaBees in South Pacific, which won a whopping seven Tony Awards including Best Revival. Jerold has been in South Pacific since it began previews on March 1 and opened to rave reviews on April 3. South Pacific is playing on Broadway at Lincoln Center. Jerold plays the role of Seaman James Hayes.

In the last few years, Barksdale and Theatre IV were privileged to feature Jerold’s talents in several casts. At Barksdale he appeared in Gross Indecency and starred in Olympus on My Mind (pictured below and to the right with Richard Travis). With Theatre IV, he starred in King Island Christmas and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (pictured above and to the left with his cousin-in-law Susan Sanford).

Best of all, God bless him, Jerold lists all of his Richmond credits in his Broadway bio.

Since moving to NYC, Jerold’s credits have included the national tours of Big River, Ragtime and Annie. South Pacific is his Broadway debut.

Jerold’s a good man and a very talented actor, singer and dancer. If you’re planning a trip to NYC this summer or next fall, why not order your tickets for South Pacific NOW. The show is a mega-hit, selling out every performance. And if you go, after curtain call, hurry down to the stage door and give Jerold Richmond’s fondest regards.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dave's Dithyramb

Posted by Bruce Miller

Richmond currently has two major theatre critics—Susan Haubenstock at the Times-Dispatch and Dave Timberline at STYLE Weekly. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of Mary Burruss (Dave’s colleague at STYLE), Joan Tupponce (writing for both and, sometimes, WCVE-FM), John Porter (sharing the WCVE-FM beat with Tupponce), Jerry Sober (Petersburg Progress-Index) and/or other scrappy scribes at smaller or more distant papers throughout Virginia. And I’m not intending to overlook the blogs.

But in today’s media environment, the T-D and STYLE still rule the roost. Because of publication schedules, Susie’s review in the T-D almost always hits the streets first, and Dave’s opinions appear in STYLE usually a week and a half later. Lucky are we that Dave somehow managed to beat the deadline this time. His review lit up the pages of STYLE yesterday, and it’s another RAVE. Looks like we’re off to the races!

Under the headline “Broad Comedy,” David Timberline begins his review as follows:

“The sexes may share equal billing in the title of the classic musical Guys and Dolls, but the show focuses more on the male side of the equation. Nothing makes that clearer than the scintillating, showstopping number, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, that comes near the end of Barksdale’s Broadway-caliber production, playing at the Empire Theatre.”

“The always-amiable Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Jason Marks in excellent voice) leads a ragtag bunch of shysters, hoodlums and lowlifes in a rollicking song of sin and potential redemption. It’s an exuberant, testosterone-fueled high point in a show filled with exceptional ensemble scenes expertly assembled by director and choreographer Patti D’Beck.”

And in what follows, the glow grows even brighter. There’s even a great, half-page color picture of the craps game taken by our Marketing Director Sara Marsden, because our photographer was out of town last week!

Here are quotes we’ll be excerpting from Dave’s review:

Barksdale’s Broadway-caliber production
Scintillating! Rollicking! Exceptional!
Heartwarming and highly amusing
Barksdale seems determined to make
Summertime Sizzle!"

The phones are ringing off the hook every day at our box office, so please consider joining the throng and reserving your tickets now. I think this is, in several important ways, a “Broadway-caliber production.” I’m proud as a peacock to be associated with all the wonderful artists who are thrilling our audiences night after night.

So far, we've had standing O's at every performance. Call for your tickets TODAY! We look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

How We Help ... Girl Scouts

Posted by Bruce Miller
I walked into Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern yesterday (Tuesday) morning to help Terrie and David Powers map out the all-but-completed set design for Shirley Valentine. This was our one chance to envision on-site exactly where the complex set would sit on the stage. This is the final design step before building begins.

"Help" is probably the wrong word for what I do. I sit there while Terrie and David are working, saying “Don’t forget about this” or “Have you considered trying it this way” or “Where are you ever going to find a (fill in an impossible-to-find prop here)” or “Are you sure the people in these seats over here will have decent sight lines?”

I walked in ready to begin the process, only to find a group of what appeared to be fourth and fifth grade girls playing theatre games on the bare stage, laughing their heads off. David had cleared out the set for Greater Tuna on Monday, so all that remained were a row of toupee and hairdo-sporting wig stands lined up against the upstage wall, looking down at the girls. From all appearances, the wig stands were smiling.

I panicked. “Oh great,” I thought. “The Tavern has rented out the space for some sort of summer camp, and they forgot to tell us.” Thankfully, such was not the case. When I looked more closely, there on the third row sat Brad Tuggle, Assistant to the Managing Director of Barksdale and Theatre IV, directing the girls through their paces. He seemed to be having as much fun as the young ladies in his charge.
Turns out that what I walked in on was the tail end of one of Brad’s scout sessions. Brad manages Barksdale and Theatre IV’s Boy Scout, Girl Scout, Cub Scout and Brownie enrichment programs. This particular group came from the Pamunkey Ridge Girl Scout Camp in Hanover, and they were there to work with Barksdale on earning their try-it in theatre.

Throughout the year, Barksdale and Theatre IV work for free with scout troops of all shapes and sizes (and both genders) as they earn their various badges and patches in theatre and the dramatic arts. This is one of our many community service initiatives, and any scout troop that is interested in working with us can contact Brad at, or 804 783-1688 ext 12. If you would be interested in helping with our scout program, please let Brad know that too. We love to work with volunteers.

Turns out this is the third year in a row that we’ve welcomed our young friends from Pamunkey Ridge onto our stage. As you’re considering why Barksdale is important to you and/or the community-at-large, please remember to add “working with scout troops” to your list. It’s fun for us and the scouts, and an excellent way to meet the needs of the community in non-traditional ways.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

They Like Us; They Really Like Us

Posted by Bruce Miller
What a weekend! On Friday we opened our colossal hit production of Guys and Dolls. On Saturday we won an Emmy Award. On Sunday we bid a fond farewell to Greater Tuna at Hano …

Wait a minute! What happened on Saturday? Did you say, “WON AN EMMY!!”??

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did. The 50th Annual Emmy Awards were presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Capital Region) on Saturday, June 14, at the Ritz Carlton in Washington D. C.

And Barksdale Theatre WON!!! (That's Katherine Heigl of Grey's Anatomy kissing our Emmy!)

To quote from their press release, “The Academy’s Emmy Award is the industry’s benchmark for the recognition of television excellence.” The Capital Region includes all of Virginia, Maryland and Washington D. C. So we were up against some pretty serious competition.

In the category “Commercial – Single Spot,” there were five nominations and Barksdale came home a WINNER. All right, I think, actually, WWBT – Joel Traylor, Producer came home a winner. At least it looks like he or they get to keep the tchotchke. But when they read the name of the winner from the dais on Saturday night, they read “Barksdale Theatre Commercial,” and so, as far as I’m concerned, WE WON AN EMMY! (That's Ryan Seacrest of American Idol admiring our Emmy!)

After all, we initiated the commercial, we paid for it, our Marketing Director Sara Marsden art directed it, our actors performed in it, our designers created the sets and costumes that appear in it, our staff brainstormed about what to include in it, our Board approved it, and our theatre’s name is the only name listed in the title.

I in no way want to shortchange or under-recognize the masterful work and creative talent exerted by Joel Traylor and our other friends at WWBT-12. They all did a great job and we couldn’t have done squat without them. But hopefully they won’t mind my swelling with pride over our part in all this either. (That's Jeremy Piven of Entourage smelling our Emmy!)

Congratulations on a job well done to our marketing staff; our directors, choreographers and designers; and our actors: Rachel Abrams, Ford Flannagan, Audra Honaker, Amy Hruska, Katrinah Lewis, Katherine Louis, Billy Christopher Maupin, Robyn O'Neill, Joe Pabst, Steve Perigard, Zak Resnick, Andrea Ross, Russell Rowland, Craig Smith, Eddie Tavares, Harriet Traylor, Jennings Whiteway, Eric Williams and Hannah Zold.

And ... pssst ... if anyone knows where I can acquire an extra one of those attractive statuettes to display in our lobby, call me. Until then, we will simply sign off as – Barksdale Theatre, Central Virginia’s Emmy Award-Winning Stage Company.

I mean, after all, WE WON AN EMMY!!

Here's the Emmy winning commercial:

--Bruce Miller

Word(s) of the Week - RUTTING HUNK

Posted by Hannah Miller
Today’s theatre artist is the legendary Broadway and Hollywood actress JESSICA TANDY, born on June 7, 1909 (pictured to the right). The world celebrated her 99th birthday a week ago Saturday. Tandy died in 1994 of ovarian cancer at the age of 85, but last week she was remembered by her legion of fans as one of the great actors of the 20th Century.

Tandy is the first woman to have made it into this blog series. In recognition of her ushering our gender into Word of the Week, I’m giving her (or I should say that Tennessee Williams gave her) two Words instead of one. Her Words comprise the provocative phrase, RUTTING HUNK.

Now please don't get offended or mad or nervous just yet. Jessica Tandy was a highly esteemed actor of the stage and screen, and enjoyed a career that lasted over sixty years. She was born in London as Jessie Alice Tandy, and became involved in theatre as a child when her parents enrolled her in the Ben Greet Academy of Acting.

Her early years were marked by one success after another. She made her professional debut at the age of 16 in a regional production of The Manderson Girls, and was soon invited to join the full time acting company of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. At the age of 20 she made her West End debut in London. One year later she achieved transcontinental success when she appeared on Broadway in The Matriarch. A short two years after that, she was featured in her first Hollywood movie, The Indiscretions of Eve.

Throughout her 20s and 30s she remained busy focusing on her stage career, and charming audiences on two continents. In 1942, she met and married actor and director Hume Cronyn, beginning a 52-year partnership that was destined to become one of the most successful and respected marriages in America’s entertainment industry.

Tandy’s encounter with history came in 1947 when, at the age of 38, she created the role of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire. She is pictured with Kim Hunter and Marlon Brando to the left. She won the Tony Award and immediate national recognition. Since '47 she has been, and will continue to be, inextricably associated with the iconic Southern stage role of her era.

When the film version of Streetcar was produced, all of Tandy’s Broadway costars were invited to recreate their characters: Marlon Brando as Stanley, Kim Hunter as Stella, and Karl Malden as Mitch. Ironically, it was another British superstar who was invited to play the role of Blanche.

Vivien Leigh (pictured to the right as Blanche with Marlon Brando as Stanley) was four years younger than Tandy. Leigh had won her first Oscar and become an international household name playing another iconic Southern belle in the 1939 blockbuster Gone with the Wind. When the film version of Streetcar was made in 1951, Hollywood had a choice—Jessica Tandy who had created the role of Blanche on Broadway to universal acclaim, or Vivien Leigh who had starred as Blanche when the play transferred to London’s West End. Internationally beloved as Scarlett O’Hara, Leigh was the more bankable star, and so she beat out Tandy for the coveted role, performing brilliantly in the film and earning her second Academy Award.

Tandy’s Hollywood superstardom was still to come.

In Act I, Scene 5 of Streetcar, Blanche begins writing down in a little notebook colorful words said by other characters. “I must jot that down in my notebook,” she tells her rough brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

Blanche -- Ha-ha! I’m compiling a notebook of quaint little words and phrases I’ve picked up here.

Stanley -- You won’t pick up nothing here you ain’t heard before.

Blanche -- Can I count on that?

Stanley -- You can count on it up to five hundred.

The first phrase that Blanche records in her book is RUTTING HUNK. But here’s the surprise—at least it was a surprise to me. That term is not used to describe the musclebound Stanley Kowalski, played by the young and buff Marlon Brando. It is used by Stanley and Stella's upstairs neighbor Steve to describe his wife Eunice.

The word RUT can be applied to non-human mammals, either male or female. When used as a verb, RUTTING means to be in “a state or period of heightened sexual arousal.” It comes from the old French word rut, meaning “to roar.” When used as a noun, the phrase “in RUT” is synonymous with the phrase “in heat.”

Whereas the word HUNK today refers to an attractive man in admirable physical condition, the word HUNK historically referred to either a man or woman. It most likely was derived from the Flemish work hunke, meaning "a piece of food." HUNK is defined in the thesaurus found at as “a person regarded as physically attractive: beauty, belle (used of a woman), lovely, stunner. Slang – babe, doll, knockout, looker, stud (used of a man).”

Going by this historical definition, not only was it appropriate for Tennessee Williams to have Steve refer to his wife Eunice as a RUTTING HUNK, it would also have been appropriate for Frank Loesser to have renamed his classic musical, which opened on Broadway only three years after Streetcar, Guys and Hunks.

Isn’t it interesting how the popularly perceived meanings of words change over time?

But one thing that doesn’t change is talent. Jessica Tandy may not have been selected to make the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, but she did go on to make many other films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1953, The World According to Garp in 1982, and Cocoon in 1985. Finally, in 1989, Tandy starred as another memorable Southern woman, the octogenarian heroine of Driving Miss Daisy, earning her first Oscar at the age of 80.

Driving Miss Daisy will play at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern this fall, starring one of Richmond’s great actresses, Joy Williams.

--Posted by Hannah Miller

Monday, June 16, 2008

Keeping Up with Kevin

Posted by Bruce Miller
Kevin Hoffman, pictured to the right with Erin Thomas, Susan Sanford and Matthew Costello in Barksdale's 2003 production of Proof, just won a significant shot at the big time. We couldn't be happier for him.

After earning his BFA in Acting from Elon University, NC, Kevin came to Richmond to appear in Proof. He did a terrific job. Since then he's been pursuing his career out of NYC. After two soap opera gigs on All My Children and As the World Turns, lead roles in four independent films, four NYC stage acting credits, ten regional theatre gigs, and one theme park stint with Universal Studios in Orlando, Kevin is about to take a big step forward.

He has just been accepted into the prestitious Old Globe/USD MFA Acting program starting in the fall. This nationally recognized actor training program only accepts seven students each year to participate in a two and a half year training period focusing on classical theatre while performing at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. It includes a full tuition scholarship, living stipend, as well as an expenses paid trip to London to study in the second year.

Needless to say, Kevin is ecstatic. We wish him all the best.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Haubenstock Hallelujah

Posted by Bruce Miller

I woke up this morning to good news in the Richmond Times-Dispatch! Guys and Dolls earned its first rave.

Under the headline "Rendition of Popular Musical Full of Dreamy Performances," Susan Haubenstock wrote:

"Finally it comes: the first notes of 'Fugue for Tinhorns,' sung in the new Barksdale-at-Empire production by the supremely gifted Jason Marks. Harmonized and counterpointed by the grittier voices of Landon Nagel and David Malachai Becker, the song is the signal for the treat about to come."

"It's the 1950 Frank Loesser / Abe Burrows / Jo Swerling hit based on Damon Runyon's tales of New York touts and tarts. And in Patti D'Beck's luscious staging, it's a summer dream, set in a Candyland-pallette Manhattan (even the sewer is lollipop-colored) with cheerful lighting by Lynne M. Hartman. Ron Keller's scenic elements cleverly spin, slide and unfold as D'Beck takes us through a fantasy New York where the Save-a-Soul Mission can actually convert a hard-boiled gambler."

I LOVE great reviews, particularly when the show is as deserving as this production of Guys and Dolls. We have approximately 15,000 seats available for sale this summer, and we have high hopes of filling them all.

Here are quotes we'll be excerpting from Suzie's review:

One blockbuster number after the next.

Fabulous Throughout ~ A Summer Dream
A Lovely Performance *** A Fantasy New York
Flashy! Snappy! Supremely Gifted!

We hope you'll make your plans now to join us this summer for this "especially noteworthy" (one last Haubenstock hallelujah) classic American musical. I know you'll be glad you did!

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Delightful, Delectable, D'Beck

Posted by Bruce Miller
I’m going to be writing a lot about Guys and Dolls this summer, so where to begin? Last night’s Opening was fantastic. The critics will weigh in with their opinions on Monday and thereafter, and if we don’t win some significant raves, I’ll be really surprised. Suffice it say Phil and I are very pleased.

No one deserves credit for the wonderful production more than our brilliant leader Patti D’Beck. A veteran of numerous Broadway musicals, Patti knows what makes a show tick. Her staging and choreography are fun, inventive and rousing. She knows how to make her performers look good, choreographing to their strengths. She knows the traditions and styles that make an American classic like Guys blow the roof off the house. And she delivers the goods with her personal flair, leaving the audience begging for more.

So just how major of a Broadway bigwig is Patti? Consider this. Her credits as associate choreographer, supervisor, dance captain and actor include the original Broadway productions of Applause with Lauren Bacall, A Chorus Line, Seesaw, Pippin with Ben Vereen, Evita, The Will Rogers Follies, My One and Only with Twiggy and Tommy Tune, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, as well as acclaimed recent revivals of Annie Get Your Gun with Bernadette Peters, Bells Are Ringing with Faith Prince, and Grease. I missed the last two; otherwise I saw and loved them all.

Best of all—and I do mean “best of all” even though this admirable trait will never be seen by the audience, at least not directly—Patti is nice. Make that NICE!! Patti has a resume that would give most people a head the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon. And yet she has no ego—at least none that she puts on display.

She is friendly, always smiling and well spoken, consistently positive, and an incredible team player who seeks and welcomes input from her colleagues. She’s a tireless model of professionalism. She aims to please, but she’s not needy. She’s respectful—respectful of each of her performers (knowing and appreciating where they are in their careers), respectful of our staff (understanding and even welcoming the reality that a company like Barksdale has limitations), and respectful of her producers.

On a show like Guys and Dolls, Phil and I work our hindquarters off, but it’s almost all behind the scenes. Patti gets it. I can’t remember the last time a Broadway veteran made a point to tell me, as Patti graciously did last night, how much she respected what it takes to run a major professional theatre in Richmond.

Guys is a HUGE show for us. Shoot, Guys is a huge show for any theatre. I think you’ll agree when you see it. Patti is able to make all the puzzle pieces fit. Because of her exemplary skill set and her winning personality, we made it to Opening Night with everyone feeling like part of a loving, supportive family. That’s a talent you won’t read about in reviews, but take my word for it, it’s exceptional.

I can’t wait to work with Patti again, should I be so lucky.

And if YOU have any sense, call and make your reservations for Guys and Dolls today. We think it’s going to be a blockbuster. It’s like Broadway on Broad Street—a wonderful evening in the theatre! I hope to see you there.

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Charcoal Street" is Good for the Soul

Posted by Bruce Miller
I made it out to African American Repertory Theatre’s world premiere production of Charcoal Street last night, the stirring new drama by AART artistic director Derome Scott Smith. I’m glad I did. And I’m off this morning to a 7:30 a.m. seminar with the Better Business Bureau, so I’ll write only briefly.

Charcoal Street is part contemporary parable, part dramatized sermon, part morality play—all centering on the crisis of homelessness in our society. The story focuses on two homeless brothers, teenagers who are abandoned by a drug addicted mother but manage to stay outside the system, preferring to fend for themselves on the street.

Through a talent for the visual arts, and remarkable character and concern for each other, they survive. With help from a caring art teacher and support from a committed pastor who runs a street ministry / homeless shelter, the two teenage brothers ultimately turn their lives around.

The play provides ample opportunity for Derome to quote from two of his strongest influences, the poetry of Langston Hughes and the lessons of the Bible. Several rising actors have moments to shine—most notably when the brothers are torn apart at the end of Act I and reunited at the end of Act II.

And a palpable demonstration of how the arts can unite us all brings down the curtain at the end of the play in a coup de theatre reminiscent of the final scene in Quilters.

I fought back the tears more than once.

Charcoal Street runs tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow night at Pine Camp. It's a good opportunity to experience firsthand the heart and soul of African American Repertory Theatre. I recommend it for your consideration.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Billy Christopher Maupin as Billy Christopher Maupin

Posted by Bruce Miller
Theatre people have so much love to give. Not all theatre people, I guess. Not all the time. But quite often I see and feel such a genuine and open outpouring of affection from and among my colleagues and friends, that it reminds me of what makes this world where I’ve lived my last 33 years so touching.

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Everybody sing along. I’m being sincere here so please don’t read in a tone of sarcasm or cynicism.

All this love and need are our greatest strengths and our most endearing weaknesses.

Billy Christopher Maupin’s cabaret, Mad About the Boy(s), presented for one night only last Sunday evening at ComedySportz, was one of those times when the love felt almost palpable. That was not a banker on stage, or an insurance salesman. Billy Christopher can seem like a raw nerve. He practically explodes with talent, and the rawness and exuberance are as much a part of the performance as is the talent. The extent to which you love it or are a little taken aback depends on your willingness to accept someone who gives his all plus. The filters and controls are sorta set aside, and the love and emotions and pride and raw talent are sent up to the trapezes with no net in sight.

Being someone who’s always been all about the safety net, I can’t help but envy and admire someone who lacks such stifling caution and reserve. I enjoyed BC's performance very much. I’ll give him some notes (he’s asked me to), but the first note will be to pay no attention to my notes. It was Billy’s show, Billy’s truth, Billy’s spotlight and Billy’s high C. And that’s as it should be. (That's Billy Christopher above and to the left, by the way, playing the earnest reverend in Smoke on the Mountain at Barksdale Hanover Tavern.)

Three cheers for Mr. Maupin, for his talented pianist Stephen (who wouldn’t you know is moving to PA), and for ComedySportz for making the evening possible. Three cheers more for the large audience that filled the space almost to capacity and embraced BC with an open heart.

If you missed it, that’s too bad for you, but you can catch his final number, Maybe This Time --

And the next time Billy Christopher sings, consider going along for the ride.

--Bruce Miller