CASTING ANNOUNCED for freeFall’s THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA!

matthewMay 18th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments
13239312_10153403654581467_1656912355695408761_n

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. (May 18, 2016) – – freeFall’s upcoming production of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA opens June 18 and runs through July 17. This lush, deeply romantic contemporary musical follows Margaret and her daughter Clara on their visit to Florence in the summer of 1953. A chance meeting between Clara and a handsome young Florentine sets both of their hearts ablaze. As Margaret attempts to shield their daughter from the outside world we become aware that all is not as it seems, and we are left to ponder the nature of love, desire, regret, and ultimately the beauty of life. Artistic Director Eric Davis brings this beautiful and touching story to the freeFall stage.

Melissa Minyard (Broadway’s LES MISERABLES, Carbonell Award Winner) stars as Margaret. FreeFall resident company members Nick Lerew and Kelly Pekar, as Fabrizio and Clara, will join Minyard. The cast also features Jennifer Byrne (EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL), Stephan James Jones, Robert Teasdale, Elizabeth Sackett and Joshua Romero.

The production team includes Michael Raabe (Musical Director) and LeAnn Alduenda (Choreographer). Charles Murdock Lucas designs the sets (freeFall’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER), Costumes will be designed by David Covach (TTB Award winner for Best Costume Design for freeFall’s MAME) and lighting will be designed by Ryan Finzelber.

Tickets can be obtained by contacting the freeFall box office.  There are discounts for seniors, teachers, students and members of the military. Rush tickets available for students and members of Actor’s Equity Association (id required). Group rates and information can be obtained by contacting Matthew at 727-498-5205 X 7.

For more information and tickets visit www.freefalltheatre.com or call (727) 498-5205.

 

Read More

Leib loved it! 4 stars for Mr. Burns from Creative Loafing!!

matthewMay 11th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

The most disturbing drama I’ve seen in years — no, one of the most disturbing dramas I’ve ever seen — is Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, currently showing in a thrillingly first-rate production at freeFall Theatre. This shocker with music (by Michael Friedman) dares to suggest that, after an apocalypse, all that Americans will have to fall back upon for intellectual, spiritual and moral guidance are half-remembered, grotesquely exaggerated episodes of TV’s The Simpsons.

If this sounds wonderfully funny, think again: In Washburn’s vision, surviving humans start innocently enough remembering favorite lines of Simpsons dialogue, but finish decades later by turning the animated series into a violent religious rite suffused with brutality and ugliness unsoftened by anything vaguely redolent of love or compassion. Forget The Bible, Shakespeare, Beethoven’s “Ninth”: Washburn’s Yanks have spent so much time in front of the television, no hopeful icon or anthem has ever touched them. What has reached them — what binds them together — is the saga of Homer and Marge, Bart and Lisa, along with some mindless commercials and a few Top 40 songs. And with no well of goodness from which to draw sustenance, these personages turn Matt Groening’s comic characters into dreadful figures in a savage, gruesome melodrama, with tenderness and kindness as scarce as working light bulbs.

The play starts with a group of survivors from some terrible cataclysm reminding each other of favorite Simpsons moments as they keep a lookout for vandals. The entire American electrical grid has collapsed, leading to a series of disasters at nuclear plants around the country. Doing their best to maintain peace and solidarity, Matt (Nick Lerew), Maria (Kelly Pekar), Jenny (Susan Haldeman), Sam (Christopher Rutherford) and Colleen (Hannah Benitez) keep guns at the ready even as they entertain each other with memories from The Simpsons. When a stranger (T. Robert Pigott) appears, they search him for weapons before accepting him into the group, reeling off lists of loved ones they hope he’s encountered. The somber atmosphere  has a humanity easily recognized.

In Act Two, this humanity is under siege. Now the aforementioned characters, joined by Quincy (Kaylin Seckel), are part of a traveling theater troupe ­— with no electricity, live theater’s the only game in town — directed by Colleen (Hannah Benitez) and specializing in Simpsons episodes and favorite commercials. There’s something manic about these performances, something unhealthy and shrill, but at least the troupe has a way of surviving. After another 75 years pass, what started as entertainment has become ritual, vicious, gruesome and nihilistic. I can’t emphasize enough the horror of Act Three’s ceremonies, based on the Simpsons episode “Cape Feare” (itself based on two movies by similar names) but looking more like a nightmare dominated by a depraved Mr. Burns. All reminders of the faces behind the masks have disappeared; theater has become reality and everything smells of death. Is Washburn giving us her vision of the bitter truth behind the American façade?

“Think of Homer and Bart as imagined by H. P. Lovecraft.”

Washburn leaves us to decipher her intentions, and that’s one more courageous move out of a hundred that makes this intrepid play work. Eric Davis manages the realism of Act One as capably as he gives us the extremes of Acts Two and Three. Michael Raabe’s musical direction is superb, as are Ryan Finzelber’s lighting (bravely muted throughout Act One) and Erica Goldman’s props. Steven K. Mitchell designed the set, including the weird houseboat in Act Three, and director Davis also created the clothes, both for TV characters and civilians. I’m haunted by the masks worn in Act Three: think of Homer and Bart as imagined by H. P. Lovecraft. If this is how Washburn sees America, I have to wonder at what meds still allow her to write.

 

This play affected me more than most others. I left the theater disoriented and worried: for me, for Washburn, for this country. It’s not often that a drama leaves me so moved. Consider that a recommendation.

 

Read More

MR. BURNS Preview! Walt Belcher for Tampa Tribune

matthewApril 28th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

An episode of “The Simpsons” achieves mythical status and eventually becomes high art in a musical comedy opening Saturday at the freeFall theatre in St. Petersburg.

“Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” by Anne Washburn, raises questions about what elements of our culture might survive in a future world where civilization and technology have crumbled.

The play’s title refers to a familiar “Simpsons” character, Mr. Burns, the aged, miserly owner of a nuclear power plant (ironic in a future without power). At the outset of the play, a handful of survivors of an apocalyptic event struggle to cope without electricity and a structured society. They gather around a campfire and find common ground in trying to recall a specific episode of the longest-running TV comedy in the history of television.

The episode that has stuck in their minds is “Cape Feare,” from season five of “The Simpsons.”

In this animated farce, Bart Simpson is stalked by the recurring character Sideshow Bob, who has been released from Springfield State Prison and wants revenge for Bart’s testimony that put him in prison. The episode parodies “Cape Fear,” a 1991 Martin Scorsese thriller with Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte that was a remake of a 1962 thriller starring Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck that, in turn, was based on a John D. MacDonald novel, “The Executioners.”

And, as with every “Simpsons” episode, this one has dozens of pop culture references, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Mikado” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

Just as the original inspiration, “Cape Fear,” had morphed from a thriller to a satire, the apocalyptic version continues to morph. “This play is about storytelling and what happens when people have to come up with ways to entertain themselves,” says actor Susan Haldeman, who along with T. Robert Pigott headlines a cast featuring Nick Lerew, Kelly Pekar, Christopher Rutherford, Hannah Benitez and Kaylin Seckel.

Haldeman, who plays survivor Jenny (and Marge Simpson), says “The Simpsons” story evolves much the way our fairy tales and legends have evolved. “By the second act, these people have formed a traveling theater troupe to tell this story, and they are even making their own live commercials,” she says. There’s also a medley of pop songs based on the group’s selective memory.

Act three jumps 75 years into the future. By this time, the reimagined “Cape Feare” has become an iconic inspirational story. It is presented as an opera performed by masked characters, like the ancient Greek chorus, singing rhymed couplets that end in a glimpse of heaven.

Haldeman, an actor with 20 years of stage experience, also serves as company manager at freeFall. She says it is not necessary to have seen the “Cape Feare” episode of “The Simpsons” but it makes the play more fun if you have. Episodes of “The Simpsons” are available to stream online.

This freeFall production is directed by freeFall’s artistic director, Eric Davis, with musical direction by Michael Raabe and set designs by Steven K. Mitchell . “This is one play that you should go see anywhere you can because you will never see two versions that are alike,” Haldeman says. “There is so much room for interpretation.”

Read More

freeFall’s Susan Haldeman talks MR. BURNS at freeFall!!

matthewApril 19th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

I first encountered Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, by Anne Washburn, because I had been asked to audition for it at another theatre.  After my first reading, I immediately picked it back up and started over from the beginning.  Then, after my second reading, I was immediately compelled to look up The Simpsons episode that is referenced in the show again and again.  I found that I could not stop thinking about the play weeks, even months, after reading it.  Having worked as a theatre professional in playhouses across the country, I knew there was one theatre and one director that was as unique as this piece.  freeFall Theatre needed to produce it with Eric Davis at the helm. It contained all of the elements that we all love about freeFall Theatre Company.  I couldn’t help but wonder what this piece might become in the hands of Eric Davis.  Later that same year, I unexpectedly became a member of the freeFall staff. Eric just so happened to be choosing the pieces for freeFall’s 2015/16 season for which the theme was “As I Remember It”, and I sent him the script to Mr. Burns.  Much to my surprise, he chose it!

The show is all about memories.  What happens when they are all we have to rely on?  When story telling can’t occur through some sort of electronic device, what happens?  We are forced to disconnect from our gadgets and re-connect with one another.  This group of people you meet in Mr. Burns does it in a really interesting way.  Through The Simpsons.  Who hasn’t seen at least one Simpsons episode (even if it WAS by mistake)?  I fell for The Simpsons in college, much as many people my age did, because it wasn’t just a cartoon.  It was an incredibly irreverent cartoon.  In my opinion, it was the first successful cartoon that was geared more towards adults than children.  It made it OK to, as an adult, enjoy the mindless entertainment of cartoons again.  It was a show that, in its prime, was watched by everyone.  So, it makes sense that it would end up being a common thread for a group of people who very likely might not have a lot in common other than shear survival.

I was struck by the importance of story telling in this piece, which is the very basis for all theatre.  It becomes so important to this group of people.  It is the one thing that they are holding onto in a world that has been turned upside down.  While civilization is starting over from scratch, the stories these characters have to pass down are based on their favorite television program, The Simpsons.  I hope that if the apocalypse comes, and I make it, I’m able to make my way in the world as these characters do.  By continuing to tell stories to all of you.

 

Read More

CASTING ANNOUNCED!! T. Robert Pigott, Susan Haldeman headline freeFall’s MR. BURNS!!

matthewApril 12th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

Casting has been announced for freeFall’s upcoming production of MR. BURNS: A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY opening April 30 and running through May 22.

Susan Haldeman and T. Robert Pigott headline a cast featuring Nick Lerew, Kelly Pekar, Christopher Rutherford, Hannah Benitez and Kaylin Seckel.

Civilization has come to an end. The grid has failed and a few survivors are left to rebuild. We find them shortly after the cataclysm attempting to remember the details of an episode of The Simpsons. From this unlikely jumping-off point, we watch the transformation of iconic pop culture into mythology as we spring forward seven years and then seventy-five.

This evocative, funny and genre-bending play asks important questions about the value of live theatre and the nature of culture and myth in society. freeFall’s production will be directed by Eric Davis, musically directed by Michael Raabe with set designs by Steven K. Mitchell (freeFall’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST).

Tickets can be obtained by contacting the freeFall box office.  There are discounts for seniors, teachers, students and members of the military. Rush tickets available for students and members of Actor’s Equity Association (id required). Group rates and information can be obtained by contacting Matthew at 727-498-5205 X 7.

For more information and tickets visit www.freefalltheatre.com or call (727) 498-5205.

 

 

Read More

Sondheim closes this week!!

matthewApril 6th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments
SOSPromo

To paraphrase Woody Allen, what can you say about Stephen Sondheim that he hasn’t already said much better about himself?

Allen was talking about bombastic sportscaster Howard Cosell. The dilemma, though, is a familiar one to anybody trying to explain someone else’s hugeness. Director James Lapine answered that challenge concerning Sondheim with a Broadway revue,Sondheim on Sondheim, and it’s a pretty successful way of doing it.

Now Freefall Theatre has taken up the challenge of doing justice to one of the most astounding popular composers of all time. InSondheim on Sondheim, performers sing selections from 18 musicals, hopping across boxes decorated with scribbled notes and lyrics. Between songs, the composer chats at length on video about his rocky childhood, career choices, relationships and writing rituals. This dimension, plus tons of added clips from Sondheim’s public life, gives the show more depth than two previously staged anthologies, Side by Side by Sondheim (1976) and Putting it Together (1999).

This is a delightful show. It combines some stellar singing with top-tier acting in the likes of Ann Morrison, whose Broadway debut in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along won her a Theatre World Award. There is a range of repertoire but it all works.

The best part is what we learn about Sondheim. Reclining on the sofa — just as he writes, with Blackwing pencils and a shot glass nearby — the composer narrates his parents’ divorce when he was 10 years old; his subsequent emotional bond with a friend’s father, lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein, who taught him how to write a song; and a bit of his inner life and the wounds he still carries. Sondheim also gives the inside story on some significant business decisions, such as deciding to take Hammerstein’s advice and write the lyrics for West Side Story.

Director Chris Crawford has cast eight singers so as to bring out the best. Highlights include Larry Alexander and Floral City native Kissy Simmons (who played Nala on Broadway in The Lion King) in Loving You (from Passion); Simmons in Ah, but Underneath(Follies); Freefall artistic director Eric Davis singing Epiphany(Sweeney Todd); Nick Lerew in Franklin Shepard, Inc. (Merrily We Roll Along); and Morrison in Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music).

And really, that’s just scratching the surface.

Some players take on multiple roles. Davis designed the set. Resident company member Kelly Pekar acquitted herself well as a cast member and designed costumes. Michael Raabe directs the orchestra and plays keyboards. All of those elements combined for a most enjoyable evening, one that gives a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius, throwing in some laughs along the way.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Read More

freeFall announces 2016/2017 Season!!

matthewMarch 31st, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

From the first black actor to play Othello on the London stage to an icon of fantasy inspired by a family friend of the author who wouldn’t grow up, our 2016/2017 season is peopled by history makers. Some you already know, some you think you know, and a few you’ve probably never met. A few happened upon notoriety by chance, others fought unbelievable odds to leave their mark on the world, and some committed unspeakable acts to be remembered. Take a seat, and experience everything on offer at Tampa Bay’s most award-winning professional theatre.

ASSASSINS

October 8 – November 6, 2016

Music and Lyrics Stephen Sondheim

Book by John Weidman

Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.

Perhaps the most controversial piece of musical theatre ever written, Assassins is a fantasia on the darker recesses of “The American Dream.” In moments both true and imagined, this riveting musical looks at the four successful and five would-be assassins of Presidents Of The United States. Together, John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim have crafted and evening of provocative, intelligent, and surprising theatre that turns on a dime between shocking pathos and biting humor. This groundbreaking work sheds a blinding light on exactly the lengths to which some are willing to go in pursuit of their slice of happiness.

December 10, 2016 – January 29, 2017

In what can only be described as an epic theatrical event, freeFall’s record-breaking production of Peter and The Starcatcher returns, playing in rep with J.M. Barrie‘s classic original, Peter Pan. See them in either order during their extended engagement, or on Saturdays see both plays – one at 2pm the other at 8pm.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

By Rick Elice

Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Music by Wayne Barker

After a sold-out run during the 2015 holiday season this audience favorite returns. A secret society must protect the powerful Starstuff lest it fall into the hands of the evil king Zarboff. When two identical trunks are switched, the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Molly, an apprentice Starcatcher. Filled with magic and mayhem, this origin story of Peter Pan comes to life through old-fashioned stagecraft and the imagination of the child in us all.

PETER PAN

By J.M. Barrie

The classic that spawned countless adaptations and derivative works comes to our stage in a production that will enchant anyone who has ever dreamt of taking flight and never growing up. When a mysterious boy appears at the nursery window of the Darling household, Wendy and her brothers are swept away to a magical land…but treachery awaits in the person of the infamous Captain Hook and his band of devilishly hilarious pirates.

RED VELVET

February 25 – March 26, 2017

By Lolita Chakrabarti

Among the pantheon of legendary Victorian actors, you may have heard of Irving, Kean, or Tree, but chances are you’ve never heard of Ira Aldridge, the American actor of African descent who became the first black actor to play the title role in Othello on the London stage. Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 1833. Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation has collapsed onstage whilst playing Othello. A young black American actor has been asked to take over the role. But as the public riot in the streets over the abolition of slavery, how will the cast, critics and audience react to the revolution taking place in the theatre? This award-winning new play, which premiered at London’s Tricycle Theatrein 2012, is an important work, which paints a vivid picture of an early chapter in the ongoing struggle to bring diversity to the stage.

END OF THE RAINBOW

By Peter Quilter

April 29 – May 28, 2017

A play with music about the final years in the life of Judy Garland, End of the Rainbow triumphed in London’s West End in 2010/2011 and on Broadway in 2012. It’s Christmas 1968, and Judy Garland is booked for six weeks of “comeback concerts” at London’s Talk Of The Town. The failed marriages, the suicide attempts, and the addictions are all behind her. At forty-six and with new flame Mickey Deens at her side, she seems determined to carry it off and recapture her magic. But stormy skies are on the horizon as old patterns resurface, and the drama backstage chip away at the onstage brilliance of one of the greatest singers of all time. Shifting back and forth between moments of onstage triumph and backstage tribulation, this speculation on a pivotal chapter in the life of a legend is at once wildly entertaining, irreverently funny, and deeply moving.

MARIE ANTOINETTE

By David Adjmi

July 15 – August 13, 2017

The pulsating contemporary look at one of history’s most enigmatic pariahs puts Marie Antoinette under the microscope of our own society’s obsession with celebrity. While Marie distracts herself with fanciful and decadent diversions in Versailles, the “have-nots” grow increasingly intolerant of the excesses of the “haves.” David Adjmi‘s driving script lets loose a barrage of energy, wit, pageantry and humor as the players are catapulted toward the title character’s inevitable end. Perhaps we too raise our celebrities to great heights in order to watch them fall.

For more information and to purchase subscriptions visit www.freefalltheatre.com or call (727) 498-5205.

 

Read More

freeFall Theatre’s SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM Celebrates Broadway’s Greatest Genius

matthewMarch 15th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

Do you realize how lucky we are? Lucky that we have lived in a time when Stephen Sondheim, arguably Broadway’s greatest lyricist and composer, has created some of the finest, most important shows ever. Lucky that we can see his influence on almost every musical currently playing in New York (just ask Lin-Manuel Miranda). And lucky that he is still around to tell his story (he turns 86 on March 22nd) and that freeFall Theatre has mounted a charming, beautifully realized celebration of his work entitled SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, conceived by James Lapine.

The show acts as sort of a companion piece to the composer’s two volume “autobiography,” Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat. (If you have not read these two works, and Sondheim is someone you adore or at least want to learn more about, then stop reading this review and order those glorious books…Now! They are a constant pleasure, beautifully scribed, and act as a self-deprecating magnifying glass into the greatest genius whoever wrote a musical and created a crossword puzzle for New York magazine. It’s a page-turner, an extremely learned look at each treasure in Sondheim’s songbook.) Sondheim himself actually appears in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM on six large video screens, in hilarious, revealing interviews that are played throughout the show. It’s more than just a mere revue; it’s like the most entertaining college course you’ll ever attend–Sondheim 101. But it’s the songs, and the eight interpreters of those songs, that get center stage.

Broadway veterans Ann MorrisonLarry Alexander and Kissy Simmons, along with the ultra-talented Eric DavisNick FitzerNick LerewKelly Pekar, and Amy Marie Stewart, tour us through this sort of stream-of-consciousness take on Sondheim’s life and work. Each of their songs, many of them not heard before, are joyfully interrupted by a Sondheim story or bon mot. These eight performances do sterling, lively work here, and in their hands, this production spotlights which Sondheim musicals emerge as the strongest…and a few of them that don’t.

Sondheim’s seemingly forgotten (but brilliant) Follies, and his most underrated work, Merrily We Roll Along, surface as the shows I most want to see again. The numbers presented from these shows in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM were stellar. All eight performers make “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs” (from Follies) a gorgeous creation. And the torchy duet between Morrison and Simmons on “Losing My Mind” (Follies) and “Not a Day Goes By” (Merrily We Roll Along) was simply exquisite.

Watching Merrily We Roll Along’s original Mary Flynn, Ann Morrison, sing one of the greatest pick-me-up-from-the-dumps songs, “Now You Know,” 35 years after the show notoriously flopped on Broadway (it still houses perhaps Sondheim’s strongest score), is worth the price of admission in and of itself. It’s a moment of celebration, like being able to watch Vivian BlaineGuys and Dolls’ original Adelaide, sing “Adelaide’s Lament.” This is Morrison’s chance to shine with her signature rendition of one of Sondheim’s best.

My favorite two songs of the night also belong to Merrily: The finest version of “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” I have ever heard, brilliantly performed by Lerew, and the cast absolutely owning the incredible “Opening Doors.” Merrily We Roll Along is waiting for someone to revive it; it’s that good a show that just has never really been given its due. It’s time for some local group to resurrect it (hint, hint).

Eric Davis is positively horrifying (in a good way) as the demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd. Sweeney Toddremains not just my favorite Sondheim show, but my favorite musical of all time period. It’s his masterpiece. (To put it in perspective, Sweeney Todd joins The Godfather and Gravity’s Rainbow as the best work in any genre produced in the 1970′s.) SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM includes just one Sweeney tune, but it’s a doozy–the chilling “Epiphany.” Davis tears the song to shreds and is maniacally, psychotically stupendous. Even though SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is a revue with no plot, this stand-alone song was as blood-curdling and terrifying as if we were watching the entire cannibalistic meat-pie saga; it makes me want to see Davis in the blood-smeared part sometime, somewhere, anywhere (hint, hint).

Larry Alexander gets the honor of singing one of the most glorious Sondheim tunes–Company’s “Being Alive.” And boy, does he nail it!

Pekar, the epitome of loveliness, sings the little-known “Take Me to the World” from an early Sondheim production,Evening Primrose; it’s a quiet number, a hidden gem, and instantly had me going to my vast Sondheim collection to try to find a version of it. Pekar, Lerew, Fitzer and Stewart provide perfect harmonies in “Something’s Coming” (fromWest Side Story). The song is usually a solo by Tony, but here, with these four marvelous singers, it sounds like the Manhattan Transfer on a very good night.

“You Can Drive a Person Crazy,” from Company, is usually sung by Bobby’s girlfriends. Here, it becomes a game of eye-rolling one-upmanship between Eric Davis and Ann Morrison. “Smile Girls,” a song cut from Gypsy, is very entertaining with Morrison in the Ethel Merman role of Mama Rose and the rest of the cast in blonde Baby June-like wigs designed by Susan Haldeman (even a bearded Eric Davis dons one, which is a sight to behold); watching it, you realize why the number never made the Gypsy final cut.

The songs that represent Sondheim’s last masterwork, Assassins, also stood out. The haunting “Something Just Broke,” sung by the entire cast, and the edgy, thrilling rendition of “The Gun Song” (where a gun is pointed at the audience, be warned), made me want to feverishly persuade a local group to mount Assassins in the near future (hint, hint).

Songs from Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods (where at one point, the stunning Simmons sings the part of a sultry, sexually menacing Wolf), Road Show, Anyone Can Whistle and even Do I Hear a Waltz? are given first class treatment here. They make me want to rifle through my Sondheim albums and listen to the best that musical theatre has to offer.

However, some songs didn’t carry the power of the aforementioned winners, and some vocals were stronger than others. The numbers from one show in particular–the polarizing Passion–not just slowed SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM down but stopped it dead in its tracks. The four full Passion songs–four of them, but it felt like a lot more–seemed to last an eternity and just did not work in the context. After this revue, Passion is the only Sondheim show I really don’t feel the need to re-experience. SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM could have included just one of its songs–probably “Loving You”–and would have worked much better.

Putting something like this together with this excellent cast falls into the capable hands of director Chris Crawford, who keeps the pace up without the whole enterprise ever feeling rushed. Although there is not a lot of choreography, the stage movement of the performers works as well as it can on Eric Davis‘ ingenious but perhaps not actor-friendly set (featuring various levels carpeted with enlarged re-creations of Sondheim’s writings and notes). The tech, under James Zervas guidance, is strong and the lighting is appropriate.

The band, under the brilliant musical direction of Michael Raabe, is wonderful: Diana Belcher and Bobby DeAngelis on reeds; Marta Bukacek on violin; John Chatterton on the cello and glockenspiel; Irving Goldberg on bass; and Thomas Guthrie, along with Raabe, on keyboard. The show sounds sensational, and all the elements rightfully come together.

Despite one minor technical glitch on opening night, the videos of Sondheim are vastly entertaining. The composer comes across as extremely charismatic and awkward, intellectual and blunt, arrogant and quirky. His stories range from the hilarious (Ethel Merman‘s confrontation with anti-profanity TV queen, Loretta Young), to the revealing (Sondheim falling in love for the first time at the age of 60, giving hope to all late-bloomers who think that love has bypassed them), and ultimately the heartbreaking (the last words his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, wrote to him, as well as his toxic relationship with his mother).

If there is a villain in Sondheim’s life, it would be his mother. His tale of a horrific letter she left for him makes me shudder; she wrote him that the one mistake in her life was giving birth to him. It’s beyond shocking, one of the worst matriarchal moments of all time, making Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest look like Carol Brady.

But think about it. His mother didn’t want him and wished he had never been born. Imagine if that had been the case; imagine a world without Sondheim. It’s unfathomable. It’s like imagining a world without Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or no William Shakespeare and Hamlet. A world without Sondheim would be a sad, cold world…a world not really worth living. We would function, of course, but so much of the joy of the past fifty years would be lost. Imagine different lyrics to West Side Story or Gypsy. Imagine never seeing the funniest musical of all time, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Imagine no cutting-edge Company (no “Being Alive”!), no Follies, no “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. Imagine Sweeney Todd as a forgotten non-musical. Imagine no “Finishing the Hat,” no Into the Woods, no Assassins, and no Oscar-winning “Sooner or Later.” Imagine musical theatre never growing up, where Rent or Hamilton may never have happened. It would be a barren dystopia in the world of musical theatre, and I find it quite a disturbing thought.

So, thankfully, his rotten mother’s wish never came true, and we are all so fortunate that the greatest single person in musical theatre history was gladly unleashed upon us in our lifetime. And you can see his genius on full display in the marvelous SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM at freeFall. Watching it, you don’t need to imagine a nightmare world where Sondheim is silenced. He’s still here, in all of his glory, and he’s ours.

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM plays until April 10th at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg. For tickets, please call (727) 498-5205.

 

 

Read More

Florida native Kissy Simmons returns to Tampa Bay!!

matthewMarch 2nd, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

MEET THE CAST! Kissy Simmons returns to Tampa Bay in freeFall’s first musical revue, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM. Kissy Simmons is best known for performing the role of Nala in Disney’s THE LION KING on Broadway, national tour and in Las Vegas. This Florida native was also a student at Patel Conservatory and frequent performer on stages throughout Tampa Bay. “We knew Kissy had “it” when she first came to us as a student,” said Straz Center president and CEO Judy Lisi. “It was always a thrill to see her grow and develop in the many shows she performed here at the Straz Center and to become the great artist she is today.” Check out Kissy’s backstage tour of THE LION KING courtesy of www.broadway.com. Don’t miss Kissy at freeFall Theatre Company March 12 – April 10.
http://bit.ly/1mOGCVK

 

Read More

freeFall Theatre to Stage SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM This Spring

matthewFebruary 26th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

freeFall Theatre continues a strong tradition of musical theatre hits with an intimate portrait of Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim in his own words and music. Chris Crawford directs and stages the Tampa Bay area premiere of James Lapine‘s award-winning Broadway hit, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM. Previews are set for March 11 at 8pm and March 12 at 2pm, and opening night is March 12 at 8pm.

Writing songs that reflect the complexity of his characters, Sondheim changed the way we define a great musical. Yet even though millions of fans know his songs by heart, few know much about Sondheim himself. This musical revue changes all of that.

Originally conceived as a tribute for Sondheim’s 80th birthday party, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is a love letter from Lapine to his friend and frequent collaborator. Exclusive video footage, in which Sondheim offers an inside look at his personal life and artistic process, is combined with sparkling-new arrangements of over two dozen Sondheim tunes, performed by Ann Morrison (original cast of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along), Kissy Simmons (Broadway’s The Lion King), Larry Alexander (Broadway’s Les Miserables), Nick Fitzer, Amy Marie Stewart, Kelly PekarNick Lerew and freeFall Artistic Director Eric Davis under Michael Raabe‘s musical direction. This revue will also feature freeFall’s largest band.

This once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience celebrates perhaps the single most important contributor to the art of the American Musical.

Tickets can be obtained by contacting the freeFall box office. There are discounts for seniors, teachers, students and members of the military. Rush tickets available for students and members of Actor’s Equity Association (id required). Group rates and information can be obtained by contacting Matthew at 727-498-5205 X 7.

For more information and tickets visit www.freefalltheatre.com or call (727) 498-5205.

http://www.broadwayworld.com/st-petersburg/article/freeFall-Theatre-to-Stage-SONDHEIM-ON-SONDHEIM-This-Spring-20160225

 

Read More