Monday, April 13, 2009

"Chicago," "nor.mal" and "Well." Oh My!

Posted by Bruce Miller
I'm just winding up another great theatre weekend right here in River City. I had the pleasure of flying solo to the Opening Night of Chicago at TheatreVCU on Friday. Hannah and I made it to the second weekend of nor.mal at Stage 1 on Saturday (I was at the Fairy Tale Ball for last week’s nor.mal opening). Tonight I caught the first dress of Well, which we open at Willow Lawn this Friday.

I love going to theatre in Richmond, and found lots to admire in these three productions.

At VCU, Maggie Marlin co-starred with Kim Exum, lending their triple-threat talents to the showgirl femme fatales, Velma and Roxie. This summer Maggie will be starring with us in the titular role of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Mike Rieman charmed his way into the hearts of America as the song-and-dance attorney, Billy Flynn. And Jake Ashey stole the show as Amos, Roxie’s long suffering husband.

Patti D’Beck’s creative and energetic choreography showed off the strengths of her talented cast. And Ron Keller’s terrific set provided all the visual jazz (and pizzazz) anyone could want. Patti and Ron directed / choreographed and designed last summer’s Guys and Dolls, and will reprise their roles in this summer’s Millie.

At Stage 1, despite nagging laryngitis, Julie Fulcher acted her heart out as a mother trapped in a downward emotional spiral. Knowing as I do that Ford Flanagan (who plays the dad) shies away from dance roles, I’m pleased to say he looked right at home in the “boxing” choreography given to him by Chase Kniffen. Ali Thibodeau and Dave Amadee turned in persuasive performances as the brother / sister teens. Dave is that commodity that is all too rare in professional theatre: a handsome, masculine young man who can act, sing and dance. He has a career ahead of him if he wants it.

Sandy Dacus did her usual masterful job as music director. And Debra Wagoner proved yet again that she has a voice made for musical theatre. The new music created for nor.mal, like a lot of new theatre music, combines dissonance with unusual harmonies and unexpected intervals to create a contemporary feeling. Those who sing this music best have perfect intonation, hitting pitches dead on rather than sliding into them or approximating them. Debra Wagoner gives a master class in nor.mal in how to do just that.

Chase loves this new and complex musical, and deserves special congratulations for daring to bring such a challenging work to Richmond audiences.

We at Barksdale deserve some of those same congratulations. Well by Lisa Kron is not your usual comedy. Ms Kron is an established memoirist—an acclaimed master of the one-woman show. In this first Virginia production of her new Broadway hit, she plays fast and loose with the form, inviting her mother to join her onstage, and hiring several guest actors to play the roles of people from her past.

Watching the show is like peeling back the layers of an onion. It’s fun and funny, with a quirky sensibility. Jenny Jones Hundley and Jody Strickler are gonna be great as Lisa and her mother. And before the evening ends, there will be more than a few sniffles as mother and daughter resolve their issues with warmth and humor.

Next weekend I hope to make it out to Pulp, Altar Boyz (Mill version), and, of course, the opening of Well. Hope you too will make the effort to support professional theatre in Richmond. Call a box office, buy a ticket or two, and then go spend some time where the acting is.

Hope to see you there.

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

Thespis' Little Helper said...

I didn't know Julie was getting over laryngitis! She sounded wonderful the night I was there!

And I had no idea Ford shied away from dance roles. He really did move stellarly.

And yeah...Debra is a goddess of musical theatre. Can hardly wait to see SOUVENIR at the Tavern!

PULP is so much fun, and our own Jeanie Rule is FANTABULOUS!