Saturday, August 6, 2016

Live Theatre Review: Evening Star Production's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Last night I attended Evening Star Production’s opening night presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Sol Theatre. Adapted and directed by Seth Trucks, it is the inaugural show in Sol’s new Shakespeare Initiative, a seed that was planted two years ago and has been lovingly cared for in minute detail, culminating in this vibrant offering to the theatre gods.

This show was initially intended to be directed by the late Laura Ruchala, whose life was tragically cut short just after her 36th birthday. Trucks, in his pre-show oration last night, advised that in one of the last conversations he had with Ruchala they discussed how Shakespeare lends itself to innovation and interpretation and how it should be adapted and retold in new and exciting ways. The first show I attended at Sol Theatre was Ruchala’s adaptation of The Comedy of Errors – starring Trucks as the twin Antipholus’ - which was creative and imaginative, literally out-of-the-box thinking. Ruchala passed away just before her show’s run began and the mantle to carry on the Shakespeare Initiative fell to Trucks. From what I saw of Ruchala’s directorial vision in The Comedy of Errors, what he has done with it would have pleased her endlessly.

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is described by Trucks as Shakespeare done in the style of a John Hughes film. Enter the 80s.

It is set in Athens High School, and even the lobby of Sol Theatre is dressed for the occasion. The guest book that is usually out front has been replaced by a notebook paper “Slam Book” in which theatregoers can write their thoughts about the show. The program is set up similar to a yearbook. No detail has been overlooked.

As did The Comedy of Errors, Midsummer begins in an external story and then magically slips into Shakespeare’s world. This play goes farther still with a beautifully shot expositive video that sets up the pre-Shakespearean scene.

Though the play is a comedy and at times this production is farcical and it is absolutely funny, it also is a very deep and moving production, and the youth cast draws emotions beautifully. You can feel the lovers’ hearts breaking when spurned by their respective suitors. You can feel the jealous ire aroused in the fight between Hermia (Emma Lawrence) and Helena (Chloe Ward) and the territorialism of Demetrius (Ryan Siegel) and Lysandra (Kayla Asouti). The angst of the teenage condition is expertly portrayed in Francis Flute (Isabella Welch) and Robin Goodfellow, better known as Puck (Francis Alfieri). Puck’s orchestrations of the emotions of the Athenians is also very reflective of the high school experience.

The Misfits are wonderful comic relief in their play-within-the-play: the tremulous Wall / Kim Snout (Kate Finkelstein), the insecure Lion / Snug (Noah Fineman), the anarchist Moon / Robin Starvling (Natalie Macadar) the apathetic Thisbe / Francis Flute (Welch), and the over-the-top-enthusiastic Pyramus / Nikki Bottom (Rylee Siegel), handled by their poor, put-upon stage manager, Penny Quince (Emma McAvoy). Their production meetings are very funny, but their execution of Pyramus and Thisbe is side-splitting.

I have to pay tribute to the gorgeous choreography by Sara Grant, beautifully executed by the Fairies: Peaseblossom (Brooke Hall), Cobweb (Zoe Alarcon), Moth (Sami Mascaro) and the adorable little aptly-named Mustardseed (Eden Wexler). The fairies (and their dancing) play such an important part in bringing the magic of this production to light. Their performance was extremely moving.

Also well-choreographed is the Benny-Hill type chase scene that pays homage to Ruchala’s Comedy.

The only adult cast members have dual roles – Cindy Thagard plays both Hermia’s mother and Titania, and Justin Schneyer plays Hermia’s father and Oberon. The original play is changed so that the dual-role element is meant to be apparent, the conflict between the two pairs carrying over from the pre-Shakespearean world to the fairyland.

I have to note how beautifully the elements of same-sex relationships are completely glossed over, no attention brought to them. As they should be.

The final, living, breathing member of the cast is the set itself, which is painstakingly dedicated to serving the play. Every little element is perfectly placed so that the transition from location to location is not only believable but enthusiastically brought. To say more would be to give too much away, but I do have to praise Kate McVay’s scenic art because when the play was over, I was compelled to go and inspect the painted rug for about five minutes for its utter beauty.

Costume, particularly in a play set in the 80s, is also an important element. Thankfully, these youth were spared from some of the more hideous choices 80s kids made, but side ponytails, suspenders, headbands, leotards, and sweater vests all made an appearance. The Philostrates (Kylie Lawrence, Megan Mascaro, and Zoe Wexler) double as theatre ushers in their Girl Scout uniforms.

As this blog originated as a music blog, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the perfect music choices that are incorporated throughout the show. Songs from A-ha, The Police, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Star Wars, Wham!, and OMD are not only played but expertly curated into the show. “Careless Whisper” is hilariously utilized. The scene where “In Your Eyes” plays had me literally weeping with the beauty of it all. “Take on Me” was used so cleverly that I fear an element of song choice might be lost on some audience members falling too far outside of the bubble of the 80s. But when “And She Was” played, I was stunned. Clearly as much loving care was used in selecting the soundtrack as was in adapting the play itself.

Every person who had a hand in bringing this beautiful work to life should be proud of what they have accomplished. It was worth the year’s wait to see what this play has become.

Sol Theatre is a 501(c)(3) corporation that relies on generous donors to continue to carry out its mission of bringing affordable, quality theatre to South Florida and to making theatre accessible and exciting to young people and youth actors. One such recent donation was an upgrade of seating in the theatre, so now everyone can sit in comfort as they enjoy this midsummer night’s dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare
August 5 – 21
Tickets: $20/$10 for Students
For Tickets: 561-447-8829 /
Performances: Friday & Saturday at 8 pm / Sunday at 2 pm
Sol Theatre
3333 North Federal Highway
Boca Raton, FL 33431

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photos by Murphy Hayes

Friday, June 17, 2016

Live Theatre Review: Evening Star Production's Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)

Evening Star Productions presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised], directed by Savannah Rootes (a "Solster" in her directorial debut).

Edward Scott, Seth Trucks, and Alex Weiss take on the ambitious task of presenting all 37 of the Bard's plays in under 2 hours - and they succeed with gusto! Granted, some of the plays are seriously abridged, but the manner in which this is accomplished will have you gasping for breath! Skip the abs workout and see this show with the same results!

The trio makes the most out of the small space of the theatre and some limited props to represent over 1000 characters in 97 minutes. The presentation of the tragedies is as funny as that of the comedies, and the histories are presented in a fresh, clever, and surprisingly apt way.

Expect to participate, but no prior knowledge of Shakespeare is necessary to enjoy the show (although during the presentation of the comedies, a little familiarity with the works is helpful - the more knowledge of the comedies you have, the more you'll get the subtle jokes, but the obvious ones are plentiful enough for someone with even zero knowledge of the plays.)

Complete Works sets out to demonstrate that Shakespeare is not just for the mature and the literati - everyone at every level and every age can enjoy Shakespeare. And anyone who attends this riotous play is sure to walk away with a fresh appreciation of the Bard.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised] will run from June 17 – 26 at Sol Theatre in Boca Raton, FL. Tickets are $15 and $10 for students. Group rates are also available. Tickets are on sale now, and can be purchased by calling 561-447-8829 or online at Evening Star Productions.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

New Music Review: Alex Cuba - Healer

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Even the most monolingual of listeners will understand two things from Alex Cuba’s Healer: joy and love.

Healer is Alex’s 5th studio album, removed from his first by three Latin Grammys, two Junos, and a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album.

The album clearly states its theme with the opening track, “Vale Todo” (“Anything Goes”) – differences are to be celebrated, especially in love. The song title can be translated more literally to mean “everything is worthy,” and it is this mindset that charges the songs on this aptly named album.

In contrast to his last album, Ruido En El Sistema, which was uncharacteristically mellow-towards-melancholy, Healer remains upbeat and toe-tappingly quick throughout 10 of its 12 tracks. “Ni Forma Ni Colores,” arguably one of the best tracks on the album, is impossible to sit still through, with both the sound and the sentiment ample reason to dance in joy.

One of the remainder songs is possibly the best showcase of Alex’s vocal strength – the beautiful confessional ballad “Contigo” features very subdued instruments and is carried entirely by his powerful croon.

The crown jewel, though, has to be “Sarah,” the lovely ode to Alex’s wife which contains one of the loveliest ideas: “in you, I found everything, and nothing is lost / missing.”

The album is populated with 5 bilingual tracks, each featuring one of 5 talents: David Myles, Alejandra Ribera, Kuba Oms, Ron Sexsmith, and Anya Marina (all but the latter of whom are fellow Canadians). Ron Sexsmith appears on Alex’s first album on “Lo Mismo Que Yo (If Only).”

Healer was crowd-funded on PledgeMusic beginning in November of 2014, and released on March 31, 2015, with a general release one week later. Alex, who was born in Artemisa, Cuba, but makes his home in Smithers, British Columbia, used the crowd-sourcing platform to simultaneously raise funds for SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, an organization which is focused on sustainability of the wild salmon ecosystem in BC, Canada.

Healer won a Latin Grammy for Best Singer-Songwriter Album in 2015, and was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award in the Best Latin Pop Album category.

Alex’s well-received message is that in love, everything is important and anything goes.

Alex is currently working on a documentary called The Cuban Bus, to be released at a soon-to-be announced future date.

The music video for “Sarah” is available here.

Healer is available from:
Alex Cuba's Official Website
Amazon (stream with Prime)

Listen to Alex Cuba on Spotify and Pandora.

Follow Alex Cuba on:
iamalexcuba on Snapchat

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Live Theatre Review: Evening Star Production's The Rocky Horror Show

If you live under a rock like I do and you’ve never seen Rocky Horror Show before, then the Evening Star Production at Infinite Abyss Theatre directed by Rosalie Grant is the production to see. You will be marked a virgin (a red lipstick V on your forehead) and you will be “initiated” (don’t worry, it was fun and no one bothers your bits) before the show can begin.

This production is a steampunk take on things, which means enviably beautiful costumes, especially Columbia (Ireland Glennon) and Magenta (Cindy Thagard) and cogwheel décor on the set (look at the gorgeous clock behind the couch!)

If there is a collective term to describe the cast, it’s SEXY. Every actor exudes beauty and confidence and just draws you in to their den of iniquity.

I won’t give up too much about the production details (even if you’re not a Virgin, you should check out the staging for yourself), but listen carefully when Riff Raff (Christian Cooper) sings – it’s beautiful. Pay close attention to Frank-n-Furter’s (Dominick J. Daniel) entrance and first scene – he moves with the elegance of Eddie Izzard in his seriously hot boots. Don’t be afraid to glance around at the other actors when one is speaking or you’ll miss great little background details – especially when the action is on the screen. Don’t miss the narrator’s (Seth Trucks) time on the couch.

I will say that this show is NC-17 : NOT for kids or for the sexually feint at heart. If you’re prudish, you might want to see a different show - this one gets raunchy, but it’s tastefully handled.

Make sure you pick up a prop bag from concessions (no outside props are allowed, please). Don’t worry, fellow Virgins – instructions on when to use the props are printed in your program. Better still, spend the extra $10 for the VIP seating and the prop bag is included, you get guaranteed front-row seating, and you will be allowed to dance the Time Warp onstage with the cast at the end of the show.

The Rocky Horror Show runs from May 12 – 28, with special midnight shows on the 14th and the 21st. Thursday, Friday & Saturday shows are at 8 PM. Tickets are $35 and $45 for VIP (limited to 14 a night!)

“Freaky, funky costumes and audience callbacks encouraged!”

The Abyss Stage & Studio, 2304 N Dixie Hwy, Wilton Manors, Florida 33305

Tickets available at the at

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Graphic design by Murphy Hayes

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Live Theatre Review: Sol Children's Theatre's Thumbelina

Sol Children’s Theatre presents Thumbelina, adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen tale by Wade Bradford, running from August 27 – September 6, Thursdays through Sundays at 7pm with a 2pm matinee on the weekends. Thumbelina tells the story of a childless woman whose wish to become a mother is granted by a faerie.

I absolutely loved the way director Christopher Mitchell worked around the logistical problem of difference of size between Thumbelina and the magical characters’ world and that of the humans that share the stage with them. Since there is no cinematic magic available, the characters each work half of the stage, playing up or down to each other in a clever fix.

The cast is downright adorable, and a large part of the show is just ooo-ing and aaaah-ing at these cute little actors. However, despite their tender ages, this isn’t an amateurish play. These kids know what they are doing and they are quite good at it. They have excellent rhythm and elocution that often goes amiss in productions by much older actors.

Brooke Hall is a lovely Thumbelina, showcasing her talents of song and dance. She shows great poise while playing a timid but eager character.

Her human mother, played by Denise Michelle, conquers her logistically-challenged role with equanimity. Though she scarcely gets to play off another characters, she emotes just as if she was speaking directly to her “little” co-stars.

Some of the children play dual or triple roles. Eden Wexler is a spunky little firecracker, especially as a baby mouse, and Addison Wexler charms in her matriarchal roles.

Addison is not the only actor playing against type; Austin Stein is a suave, elderly mole whose kindness to Thumbelina has suspicious origins.

Murphy Hayes is great as Uncle Jack the field mouse, the crotchety counterpart to Thumbelina’s optimist.

There is much comedy in this show – at times the audience laughter caused me to miss some of the actors’ lines. Isabella Welch has a great role as a caterpillar coming to terms with puberty which she executes hilariously. The couple of times when the actors break the invisible “fourth wall,” it enriches rather than detracts from the play.

Costume design (Ember Everett) and makeup (Christopher Lam & Elizabeth Condon) are beautiful artistic elements of this show: Zoe Alarcon’s elegantly-played black widow and Samantha Mascaro’s “chirpy” sparrow are both enhanced by these.

I am always in awe of the beautiful artwork (Kate McVay) that is created for the backdrop of Sol’s productions. Thumbelina is no exception; a verdant mural serves to create the setting, and the cobblestone path encountered along the journey is worth a closer look after the show.

In short, I highly recommend this play for all ages – the little theatre-goers have a special pint-sized front row just for them. At only approximately 60 minutes with no intermission, the play is timed perfectly with scene changes to keep younger viewers engaged and more mature audience members enchanted.

Sol Children's Theatre is located at 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33431. Tickets for future performances can be purchased here.

Sol Children's Theatre is a 501(c)(3) corporation and would benefit greatly with your tax-deductible support, all of which is invested right back into providing quality theatre entertainment for the community.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Live Theatre Review: Evening Star Production's BUG

Director Rosalie Grant makes excellent use of the intimate space at the Infinite Abyss of Wilton Manors with her production of Tracy Letts’s BUG. The stage is busy, but not distractingly so, with props that tell as much of a story about the characters and their lives as the action does. Lighting and soundtrack are also well-placed, important elements of the story.

Set in a seedy motel in Oklahoma, the play opens on a dysfunctional note that will set the tone for the entire show. The harried Agnes (Erynn Dalton), who is haunted by her past, is soon introduced through her friend RC (Rachel Finley) to someone who will change her future.

Todd Bruno is inspired as the mysterious stranger, Peter Evans, who is endearingly awkward. Peter captures the audience from the first moment he’s onstage, and his bookishness is oddly charming. Todd remains true to the character as he evolves from act to act.

The chemistry between Agnes and Goss (Dominick Daniel) is corrosive and his character is as despicable as Evans is winsome.

Though the play is dark and macabre, it is broken up by some scripted as well as more subtle, visual, humor.

Tonight is your last chance to catch the don’t–miss BUG. Evening Star Production performs its final show on Saturday, August 29 at 8pm.

May be inappropriate for young audiences because of violence, drug use, and nudity.

Get your tickets here or at the door: Infinite Abyss, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors FL.

Relevant music reference:

I heard Dwight Yoakum, Brooks and Dunn, Chris Isaak, and some Johnny Cash.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Live Theatre Review: Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival's Hamlet

WARNING: This review contains spoilers regarding both Hamlet in general and this production in specific

Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival’s production of Hamlet marks the 25th anniversary of the festival. The production is a break from the traditional with the original play abridged to roughly half its running time at just over two hours. It also sets the play in modern times, which means cell phones, selfies, and firearms. Additionally, Laertes (Krys Parker), Rosenkrantz (Kelly Ainsworth), and Guildenstern (Courtney Poston) are all female characters, with the latter pair portrayed as part of the stereotypical self-obsessed youth culture to a very comical effect.

Kyle Schnack as Hamlet brings an energy to the Prince of Denmark, playing off the audience with a quick wit. He even shows off his own crest tattoo, as the actor is of Danish descent. Darryl Willis is delightful as the tedious Polonius, such that one is almost sorry that he meets his tragic end. Carly Lopez stuns with her portrayal of Ophelia’s betrayal, heartbreak, and descent into madness. She captures the heartstrings even posthumously as her sister Laertes laments her passing.

The character of Horatio, played by Seth Trucks, plays a pinnacle role in this production, a point emphasized by his costume. The majority of the residents of Elsinore are clad in white, while those outside – and perhaps, symbolically, in opposition to them – are dressed in black. Hamlet bears the funereal color as he continues to mourn his father’s death (thus visually serving as an antagonist to his uncle the king) as do the grave digger and the players who unveil the king with their play-within-a-play. Those whose loyalties are possibly divided are clad in black and white, but only Horatio and Old Hamlet’s ghost (Zach Myers) wear gray, perhaps suggesting that it is Horatio’s role to serve as the bridge between Hamlet and his father, between conflict and resolution. The play opens and closes on Horatio and what he sees and he spends much of the play as the quiet observer, sussing out the motives of all around him. He is the one to bring the news to Hamlet of his father’s ghostly unrest and the one left behind, charged to go forth and tell the story of the events as they unfolded. Horatio, dressed in gray, is chosen to be the middle ground between the black and the white.

For such an abridged version of Hamlet, director Trent Stephens has crafted an excellent theatre experience, filled with comic relief (albeit some unintentional – the line “It’s cold” generally gets a chuckle from the sweaty audience). This Hamlet is a show worthy of being watched again and again.

Hamlet runs at the Seabreeze Amphitheatre at Carlin Park in Jupiter, FL, Thursday-Sunday, July 9 – 19. Gates at 6:30, show at 8:00. This is an outdoor festival, so bring camp chairs or a blanket, your picnic, bug spray, sunscreen, emergency rain ponchos, and your well-behaved pets and young people, if so inclined. Arrive early enough and you can even have the grave digger recite you a sonnet for the reasonable price of $5 with bonus Yorick accompaniment. Also, this is a free show, but your suggested donation of $5 is the lifeblood of the program and wonderful events such as this depend on your patronage, so bring your wallet and give freely to support the arts!

Finally, as this is technically a music blog, I must note that the soundtrack to the show is dynamic and addicting (I’ll admit to having purchased all the songs I could identify) and even the before, after, and intermission music is amazing.

Lena Fayre
Emily Browning
Imagine Dragons