Welcome to Asheville Performing Arts Reviews: Online and Ontarget

Thanks to our contributers and the readers of Mountain Xpress for voting APAR: Online and Ontarget 3rd best blog in WNC for 2006!

Please respond to reviews by clicking on "Comments" at the end of the review, and adding yours.

Contribute new reviews by emailing them to Bernhard Grier at berngrier @ gmail.com.

21 February 2008

Moonlight and Magnolias

From the C-T

Theater Review: "Moonlight and Magnolias" fast and frantic fun
by Tony Kiss
published February 21, 2008 10:00 am

By Tony Kiss

ASHEVILLE - What if the Three Stooges tried to write the screenplay for “Gone with the Wind,” in just five days – locked in a room with nothing to eat but bananas and peanuts?

But these Stooges aren’t Moe, Larry and Curly – they’re producer David O. Selznick, screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming.

That, in a nutshell, is “Moonlight and Magnolias,” a wildly entertaining slapstick comedy running at Asheville’s N.C. Stage Co. This freewheeling romp showcases the superb talents of Scott Treadway as Selznick, theater co-founder Charles McIver as Fleming and the increasingly impressive Willie Repoley as Hecht – plus Lauren Fortuna as the dutiful secretary Miss Poppenghul, who manages some good moments up against this powerhouse trio.

Loud and frantic, there’s a strong similarity here to “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” previously performed by the same company which starred Treadway and McIver acting out the Bard’s works in one evening. There is great on-stage chemistry with these guys, and it’s only made better with the addition of Repoley to the mix.

It’s 1939, and stressed-out Selznick has shut down the movie for lack of a suitable script. He’s called weary fix-it man writer Hecht for help, and summoned strong-willed Fleming from the almost completed “The Wizard of Oz.”

Trouble is, Hecht knows nothing of “Gone with the Wind,” so Selznick and Fleming will act it out for him, line by line, as he pecks out the screenplay for a big paycheck. Hecht wrestles with the book’s racist undertones, while Selznick and Fleming wrestle with each other, and all three sink into an almost psychotic stupor from the stress.

Everyone here shines under the direction of Ron Bashford. Given little more to do than reply “Yes, Mr. Selznick,” Fortuna steals a few moments, especially pushing a squeaky cart around the stage.

This one will leave you exhausted from laughter and the experience of watching this bunch work.

Contact Tony Kiss at 828-232-5855, via e-mail at TKiss@CITIZEN-TIMES.com

Crown of Shadows

from wnctheatre, http://wnctheatre.livejournal.com

Edward the King: A Wonderful Play, in Search of a Production
2/20/08 02:54 pm

Crown of Shadows, a joint production from Junction City Productions and Black Swan Theatre, is an offering of three plays by local playwright David Brendan Hopes, on three consecutive weekends, from February 15 through March 2, at the Asheville Arts Center.

The first of the three installments is Edward The King, which will enjoy a full production this coming May as part of New York City’s Gayfest. The play, beyond question, is worthy of a full production. It is unfortunate, then, that the play was not afforded the same luxury this past weekend at the Asheville Arts Center.

The script is simply delightful, filled with whimsy, wit, passion and poetry. It tells the story of young Edward Plantagenet before and during his ascension to the throne, and his deep abiding love for another young man that he meets on his secret journey to the underbelly of his eventual kingdom. The play is unique in that it takes place both then and now: in a world from hundreds of years gone by complete with laptop computers and automatic weapons. The dialogue is truly engaging, and some of the acting is good as well, but there is little to no production value whatsoever, which proves to be detrimental to the overall experience. There is no set designer listed in the program, which is painfully obvious when looking at the stage. The landscape is random, flat and does not help to facilitate any kind of flow to either the physical or the emotional life of the play. Since the stage dressing failed to make clear the production's conceptual merging of two time periods, perhaps this could have been achieved with costuming. However, apparel choices seemed to blend together in a hodge podge of non-specific time periods and styles.

The only other production elements present is provided by Brian Sneeden, designer of the sound and lights, both of which, thankfully, help to create and even at times enhance the world of Edward The King, so terribly lacking in any other aspect of the production.

Another saving grace of the evening is the acting from four of the five cast members, who were splendid. Unfortunately, Piers Gaveston, the one character who truly needed to dominate the world with his sexual energy, blow every girl's skirt up, and make every boy question his own manhood, does none of those things, coming across more as simply amusing and cute rather than dangerous and beautiful. To be fair, the actor seems only partially responsible for his performance. We have to look to the higher chain of command to find where truly the fault lies.

After seeing the performance, I expected to see the same credit in the program for director as there was for set designer: none. Alas, no, there were two! There were several choices made, or not made, on various levels, including acting, staging and design, but most of it seemed arbitrary at best. The actors provided some wonderful moments, but the bigger picture lacked any momentum, continuity or vision.

But once again, I must bow my head and curtsy to Mr. Hopes, who has written what I believe to be a wonderful play. I look forward to the next two plays in the next two weeks. It certainly is an ambitious effort, and hats off to Junction City and Black Swan for giving a voice to a well-written play. Despite the fact that the lack of production and direction detract from the enjoyment of the evening, there are some engaging acting moments. And even if you can’t see all the action all the time, (a distinct possibility, given the lay-out of the space), there is satisfaction to be had in just listening to the words.

I Love a Coney Island Roller Coaster

From the C-T

Berlin musical familiar fun
updated February 21, 2008 8:35 am

ASHEVILLE — Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” is like a Coney Island roller coaster ride. You know where it’s going, but it’s a fun and entertaining ride.

This collection of 60-plus songs written by Berlin is a feel-good performance powered by a talented singing, dancing cast of six, plus three musicians. It follows the same format as the John Denver tribute “Almost Heaven,” and the Johnny Cash celebration “Ring of Fire,” with lots of familiar songs.

The touring production, running through Sunday at Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place, takes a musical trip through the first half of the 20th century, when Berlin was one of America’s top songwriters.

Show creators Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley have divided the piece into various settings — among them, a music shop in the 1910s, a 1920s speakeasy, a 1930s New York street scene, the World War II years and after, and a 1950s summer stock theater.

Among the show’s best moments are “Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Pack up Your Sins and Go to The Devil,” “White Christmas” and “Anything You Can Do.” The show has its goofy moments — “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” among them, but is equally touching with “White Christmas” and the stirring “God Bless America.” The choreography and vocal blending is often stunning.

The cast features Mark Baratelli, Sean Schwebke, Jason Weitkamp, Summer Broyhill, Darcie Bender and Karla Shook. Jillian Nyhan Zygo will take over Broyhill’s spot Friday-Sunday. All perform with skill, but the standout is Shook, with big brassy vocals and fine comedic skills. Also adding to the production is the live music by pianist/conductor Alex LeFevre, Jared Young and Chris Conte plus five local musicians not credited in the playbill.

Contact Tony Kiss at 828-232-5855, via e-mail at TKiss@CITIZEN-TIMES.com

35 below MATCH

From the C-T

'Match' provides intense theatric experience
published February 9, 2008 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE – Lies. Broken responsibilities. Emotional wounds that won’t heal, even years later. Those themes run through the heavy drama "Match," on stage at Asheville’s tiny 35below theater space.

This tale of three lives colliding in a dingy little apartment in Manhattan is incredibly intense. There are some funny moments, but mostly this is very intense stuff, as a man and his wife pay an odd visit to an aging choreographer, supposedly for scholarly reasons. But they begin weirdly prying into his life. It’s obvious there are some secrets here, and soon, the whole mess spills out and it’s not pretty.

The play, by Stephen Belber and directed by Jamie Nicholson, is getting its North Carolina premiere. Alphie Hyorth is the fading dancer and choreographer Tobi Powell, whose colorful Bohemian life has passed him by. It’s the show’s juiciest character and Hyorth is masterful in his portrayal.

Jane Porterfield is the soft-spoken interviewer Lisa Davis, who comes calling with her husband, Mike (Clete Fugate). She begins asking bland questions about Tobi’s career, but after seeming to be completely disinterested, Mike abruptly starts interrogating him about his sex life.

By intermission, we know what’s happening and in act two learn why. But even at the conclusion, when it seems all is wrapped up, you wonder just what has happened. This is adult material, peppered with profanity, sexual situations and drug use.

With Hyorth in the center of this story, Fugate gives an explosive performance while Porterfield remains mostly subdued. At times, she speaks in almost a whisper that’s difficult to understand, though she has some powerful emotional moments.

photo Contact Tony Kiss at 828-232-5855, via e-mail at TKiss@CITIZEN-TIMES.com


Sorry for the delay.... from the C-T

Theater Review: "Stomp" a high-energy hit at Wolfe Auditorium
by Susan Strehler
updated January 30, 2008 9:11 am

It’s difficult to go anywhere without meeting someone who hasn't seen “Stomp.” And now I understand why.

I've never seen such good use of a floor. Or a plunger, kitchen sink, tin trashcan lid, water cooler jug, bucket, broom and other nondescript items that we see on any given day. The production finishes a two-night run this evening at Thomas Wolfe

What makes this show so unique is its cast's ability to individually hold a beat, creating a collective output which is eclectic, rhythmic and so well choreographed it seems effortless.

Over the years, I've heard various tales of how “people bang on things,” so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had earplugs in my pocket in case the “banging” became a little too obnoxious. On the contrary, it could have been a bit louder.

In some acts, subtle, gentle beats erupt into a full-blown circus of people doing round-house leg maneuvers, jumping, arms swinging, playful stick-fighting, all while purposefully maintaining their own particular beat on a can or jug. My toes were tapping most of the time.

There were a few times when the lead cast member elicited the crowd to follow his clap or finger snap, and that was all good and fun; not like one of those shows where the amount of audience participation gets annoying.

Though not indicated by drawn curtains or the end of a song, the acts are separated by dimmed lights. Each segment takes on a whole new “instrument,” which sparks laughter in the audience because of its ingenuity. Would you really think to crinkle a newspaper as a source of rhythm?

Another source of hilarity was the cast's resident “goofball.” He was the poor soul who couldn't quite keep up with his stagemates' acts, yet brought comedy and musical talent when least expected.

One of the best moments was the show's only off-the-floor act: five people dangling, rappel-style, beating on the wall of pots, pans, cans, cups and jugs.

Performed without spoken word, the whole production based upon ordinary "junk" creates a dialog on its own.

Contact Susan Strehler at 828-232-5964, via e-mail at sstrehle@gannett.com