Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Weekend Arts Picks

A village maiden falls in love with a prince
who's betrothed to someone else in 'Giselle.'


DANCE: The mid-19th century French composer Adolphe Adam is best-known in this country for two pieces: the Christmas carol O Holy Night and the score to the ballet Giselle, which premiered in 1841. Giselle is the timeless tale of a village maiden who falls for a prince-in-disguise who's betrothed to someone else. The State Ballet Theatre of Russia performs the work at 8 p.m. Friday, at the Kravis Center. Tickets are $20-$70. Call 832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org. — G. Stepanich

MUSIC: Seeing a concert at Whitehall, the Gilded Age estate of Henry Flagler, is a special experience in which the surroundings compete with the music for the title of most elegant. The Flagler Museum concert series begins Tuesday night with the Baltimore-based Poulenc Trio: Pianist Irina Lande, oboist Vladimir Lande and bassoonist Bryan Young. The program includes music by the group's namesake, Francis Poulenc, as well as Andre Previn. The concert begins at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 6. Tickets are $60. Call 655-2833. — G. Stepanich

The Kravis Center's series of Rinker Playhouse concerts featuring emerging musicians brings the pianist and tech advocate Hugh Sung to the venue with the other members of his trio, accordionist Lidia Kaminska and saxophonist Doug O'Connor. That promises a novel and fascinating mix of music, which in this case includes sonatas by the American composers Paul Creston and John Harbison, tangos by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, and an arrangement of a movement from Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, originally for violin, viola and orchestra. The Hugh Sung Trio appears at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 5. Tickets: $30. Call 832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org. — G. Stepanich


FILM: If you were discerning, you passed on seeing Twilight, the teen romance/vampire movie, and waited for the arrival of a genuine art house film about the undead. Like Let the Right One In, a Swedish release about a young outcast who is bullied at school and befriended by a new neighbor girl who, yup, only seems to emerge after dark. From the land of Ingmar Bergman comes this moody tone poem on alienation, friendship and fang marks. Opening Friday at Emerging Cinemas in Lake Worth and playing through the week. Call (561) 296-9382 for specific show times.

THEATER: Profanely abusive and dependent on alcohol and drugs, actress Tallulah Bankhead is fertile territory for a biographical play. Give playwright Matthew Lombardo (Tea at Five) credit, though, for not making his new script, Looped, a one-woman show, for giving it a strong dramatic context — the difficult “looping” session for Bankhead’s final film, Die! Die! My Darling! — and for casting Valerie Harper as the Southern hellcat. The pre-Broadway engagement is in previews now, opens officially Jan. 7 and continues at the Cuillo Centre in West Palm Beach through Feb. 15. Call (561) 835-9226 for tickets.

FROM THE MEA CULPA DEPARTMENT: Here's a bit of year-end bad news-good news. The bad news is that in my review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I misattributed the extraordinary make-up work on the film not to multiple Oscar winner Greg Cannom, but to one of his assistants. For that, I apologize to Mr. Cannom and — don't you love the flexibility of on-line papers? — the reference has already been corrected. The good news? It was Mr. Cannom who called the error to our attention, so maybe Palm Beach ArtsPaper has already become a must read for those in the know in the film industry. — H. Erstein


Art preview: Exhibit honors Holocaust survivors

Forty-seven painted portraits by Wilma Bulkin Siegel are featured in the exhibition Survivors and Liberators at Whitespace – The Mordes Collection.
(Photos by Katie Deits)

By Katie Deits


The general public now has the opportunity to see the collection of one of Palm Beach County’s most outstanding collectors of contemporary art.

Elayne and Marvin Mordes are offering tours of their exhibition space (as well as their attached personal residence), located in a renovated commercial building in West Palm Beach. The current -- and very moving -- exhibition, Survivors and Liberators, concentrates on survivors of the Holocaust, "instilling strength of spirit through portraits and narratives.”

The exhibit, which opened Dec. 18 and runs through April 19, features 47 large-scale painted and collaged portraits of Holocaust survivors created by Wilma Bulkin Siegel. The artist interviewed and painted the subjects in their homes to “reach their souls and spirits in their own environment to tell about who they are," Elayne Mordes said.

A narrative about the person accompanies each painting. Siegel, a South Florida physician, philanthropist and humanitarian, does not sell the paintings, but instead creates community-based projects that are exhibited around the country.

Running concurrently is a thematically related show called Trace Evidence, featuring international film and video artists, as well as sculpture. Palm Beach resident and fine artist Ronn Jaffe is included in that exhibit. His work, Ominousness: The Showers at Auschwitz, is an intense mixed-media sculpture with a woodcut, photograph and found objects (Jaffe and the sculpture can be seen at right).

Private tours of Whitespace – The Mordes Collection can be booked online at www.whitespacecollection.com, where the public days are also listed. Reservations must be made as space is limited and “drop-ins” are not permitted. The $30 per person entrance fee is donated to Whitespace Endowment, an arts and education grant fund at The Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin. The Mordeses will also be hosting VIP tours during the palmbeach3 contemporary art fair, which opens Jan. 15.

For reservations and more information, e-mail: info@whitespacecollection.com or visit the Whitespace Website.

Elayne Mordes, left, greets artist Wilma Bulkin Siegel
on the opening night of the exhibition Survivors and Liberators.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bests of 2008: Theater

Nanique Gheridian (center) stole the show in
Palm Beach Dramaworks' production of 'Benefactors.'


By Hap Erstein

1. Master Class (Maltz Jupiter Theatre) — The interweaving of the life of opera great Maria Callas, her tempestuous public coaching sessions and Terrence McNally’s musings on the nature of art makes for exciting theater, but it needs a powerful actress in the central role. It got it in the fiery, and occasionally fragile, Gordana Rashovich, who as Callas ranks with the best. Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge brought out unexpected resonances in the text, turning the production into more than a one-woman show.

2. Benefactors (Palm Beach Dramaworks) — Good intentions go astray, in urban redevelopment and human relationships, in this intricate, thought-provoking drama in which playwright Michael Frayn channeled Henrik Ibsen. Todd Allen Durkin was well-cast as a self-appointed contrarian, but Nanique Gheridian took the acting honors as dithering appendage who goes through a metamorphosis to her own combustion point.

3. The Full Monty (Maltz Jupiter Theatre) — Peek-a-boo male nudity arrived on the Maltz stage for the first time and the audience ate it up. Director Alan Souza and choreographer Ron De Jesus delivered a polished, high-testosterone, inventive production about unemployed steel workers who form a Chippendale's act, and the result was the best musical package ever in the company’s short history. The cast was top-notch, but no one could stop Mimi Hines from stealing the show as the act’s salty rehearsal pianist.

4. A Body of Water (Mosaic Theatre) — Like water, this tone poem play by Lee Blessing was slippery and elusive, but those who puzzled through it found it lodged in their heads for a long time afterward. Beth Dimon and Ken Clement played a married couple who awoke each morning with no memory of each other. The onset of Alzheimer’s? A metaphor for all marriages? Even without an answer, these murky waters proved to be mesmerizing.

5. The Count (Florida Stage) — Where would American drama be without the dysfunctional family? Roger Hedden served up a prime example, with a Houston foursome of increasingly frail parents, squabbling grown children and a new addition — a mysterious count who has attached himself to the patriarch. Picture Moliere’s Tartuffe grafted onto Painting Churches, a play that could only become more relevant in the age of Bernard Madoff. Lou Tyrrell directed with equal parts confrontation and humor.

6. Souvenir (Palm Beach Dramaworks) — The history of socialite and concert singer wannabe Florence Foster Jenkins, tone-deaf but adored, is factual and you could not make up such a preposterous tale if you tried. Her climb to Carnegie Hall acclaim is lovingly laid out by Stephen Temperly and her shoes and outlandish costumes were well filled by Beth Dimon in full screech. Narrating and providing nimble accompaniment was Tom Kenaston as the improbably named Cosme McMoon, and the result was a perfect little gem of an evening. As long as you covered your ears.

7. Suite Surrender (Caldwell Theatre Co.) — Prolific local playwright Michael McKeever must have been trying to give the Caldwell an ensemble comedy hit like its rib-tickling Lend Me A Tenor when he came up with this farcical World War II-era sitcom about two stellar divas who are mistakenly checked into the same Palm Beach hotel suite. Hilarity ensued, as they say, thanks to a sublime cast headed by Beth Dimon (gosh, she’s in a lot of my favorite shows) and Suellen Estey as the stars and McKeever as Dimon’s pipsqueak factotum. This could grow into his most commercial script yet.

8. I’m Not Rappaport (New Vista Theatre Co.) — Herb Gardner’s Tony Award-winning geriatric comedy about two octogenarians on a Central Park bench did not seem to be showing its age in this assured, restrained production directed by Amy London. Matlock’s Clarence Gilyard played the sight-challenged custodian, well matched by Bruce Adler as a crusading trouble-maker, with memories of the production all the fonder knowing it was the late Adler’s swan song to the theater.

9. Blackbird (GableStage) — GableStage is not accustomed to producing love stories, but one as sick and twisted as David Harower’s Olivier Award match-up between a factory foreman and the underage girl he abused 15 years earlier obviously appealed to the company. In a year of first-rate performances, Gordon McConnell gave one of his best ever as a man trying desperately to keep his reinvented life from cracking open and Mary Rasmussen is a mercurial actress to be reckoned with.
David Alvarez in the Broadway production
of 'Billy Elliot.'


10. Billy Elliot (Imperial Theatre, New York) — OK, this one is a bit of a cheat, but get thee to Broadway to see the best new musical of the decade, Elton John and Lee Hall’s re-imagining of the 2000 gritty feel-good movie about the coal miner’s son who yearns to be a ballet dancer. It would be hard not to root for young Billy, no matter which of the three alternating lads you see, and hankies will also come in handy. Dance has been downplayed in musicals lately, but it is back forcefully thanks to Peter Darling’s choreography.

Music 2008: A look back at classical's most memorable

Violinist Vadim Gluzman.

By Greg Stepanich


The pressure of work earlier this year being what it was, I can't really offer a true "best of" list for 2008. I didn't get to enough of the concerts I wanted to see, and the ones I missed I heard good things about.

So allow me to offer this list instead of some memorable performances from 2008:

Vadim Gluzman, violin: Earlier this month, the Russian violinist turned the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto into a blistering exercise in full-throated Romanticism, and an audience at a Boca Symphonia concert into shouting, standing mayhem. And for his encore, he chose a movement from an Ysaye sonata that was every bit as difficult. An astonishing, incredibly exciting performance, and one that made Tchaikovsky sound fresh and new.

Seraphic Fire: The Miami-based chamber choir under Patrick Dupre Quigley is always worth hearing and seeing, partly because the programming is so sharp and the feeling of camaraderie among the singers is so palpable. In May, the group's Music for Kings program featured fine singing from soloists and ensemble in works of Handel and Mozart, including Zadok the Priest and the Kyrie from the Coronation Mass. The group returned to Palm Beach County in September to open a series of appearances at the Harriet Himmel Theater at CityPlace with Baroque music from New Spain, and Cuba in particular. In addition to the chance to hear 18th-century rarities by Esteban Salas, the group also premiered a jazzy new choral piece by the group's guitarist, Alvaro Bermudez. It takes skill, boldness and imagination to pull off a program like that, and Seraphic Fire did it.


Pianist Konstantin Lifschitz.

Konstantin Lifschitz, piano: The Russian pianist played the entire Well-Tempered Clavier cycle of J.S. Bach during his appearances in late March at the Miami International Piano Festival. I caught the first half in a recital at the Broward Center, and it was wonderful to hear these works played back-to-back like this, not only because it threw the immense variety of these pieces into high relief, but also because Lifschitz played them with style, polish and a technical assurance that allowed him to play rapid passages and interior fugal voices with equal clarity. The performance has been recorded on DVD by VAI, so you can see and hear it for yourself if you missed it.


Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival: It's been going for 16 seasons now in the middle of the South Florida summers, and here, too, there always is something worth listening to. I caught three of the four concerts this July and August; the high points were a radiant Beethoven Archduke Trio on the first concert, two delightful rarities on Concert 3 -- a work for clarinet and bassoon by the Polish composer and mountaineer Wawrzyniec Zulawski, and the quirky Revue de Cuisine of the Czech Bohuslav Martinu -- and an absorbing Brahms G major String Quintet on Concert 4. Hats off to Karen Dixon, Michael Forte and Michael Ellert, who founded this festival in 1992 and have kept it going all this time.

Master Chorale of South Florida: The choir that rose from the ashes of the Florida Philharmonic chorus has a new director in Joshua Habermann, who took over from Jo-Michael Scheibe, who took a teaching position in California. Scheibe's last concert, a presentation of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, was impressive even in the composer's reduced orchestration for two pianos and percussion, and during the performance at Boca Raton's Pine Crest School, the last 15 minutes or so really started to cook in a thoroughly joyous manner. Habermann's mounting of Elijah was even more impressive from a sonic standpoint at least, with a huge wallop of voices and instruments making a strong case for the Mendelssohn oratorio. But you could also hear a gratifying attention to diction and dynamics on the part of the chorus, surely a sign they want to be on their toes for their new director.

The Tokyo String Quartet.

Three quartets: Early Beethoven got a nice reading from a veteran quartet and a group of college musicians back in January. The Tokyo String Quartet, playing at the Society for the Four Arts, gave a fine concert in which a high point was the Op. 18, No. 2, quartet, polished to a high-gloss sheen that was as elegant a performance of this music as I've heard. Later in the month, the Lynn String Quartet (since renamed the Alues String Quartet), four talented students at the Lynn University conservatory, played the first quartet in the Op. 18 set. What this performance lacked in spit-shine it more than compensated for in energy and fire, a good match for the spirit of the young composer whose first string quartet this was. Another quartet from Lynn, the Edan Quartet, did a decent job later in the year with the Schubert Death and the Maiden Quartet in a performance in Coral Springs. One venerable quartet of undoubted excellence, and two youthful quartets following in their footsteps.

Other memorable performances included the Chinese-born pianist Di Wu in an all-Ravel recital at the Rinker Playhouse, and harpsichordist Chiara Massini making her American debut in Delray Beach. And as I recently noted, the Goldstein-Kaler-Peled Trio made a great case for the Beethoven Triple Concerto in a concert with the Palm Beach Symphony at the Four Arts.

The Best of 2008: Films

'Milk': Timely, and Hap's pick for No. 1 film of the year.

By Hap Erstein
After viewing some 300 movies last year, it all comes down to these:

1. Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant; w/ Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin) Beyond a biography of rising and eventually slain San Francisco politico Harvey Milk, this film tells a parallel tale of the rise of the gay right movement in America. And it is surely no coincidence that Milk’s most hard-fought ballot battle eerily echoes the recent struggle over Referendum 8 in California. Featuring a startling starring title performance by Penn, without his usual angst and anguish.

2. Frost/Nixon (dir. Ron Howard; w/ Frank Langella, Michael Sheen) The back story of the verbal tug-of-war and prize fight between celebrity interviewer David Frost and disgraced but unapologetic former President Richard Nixon in a series of taped chats in which each seeks salvation. Langella is a wily Nixon, Sheen highly flappable as Frost, reprising their Broadway performances and Howard opens the play up, making it more lively and involving.

3. Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle; w/ Dev Patel, Freida Pinto) Out of the squalor of Mumbai comes a lowly tea boy named Jamal to reach for the top prize on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He then is forced to tell his gritty life story to the police as his explanation for how he knew the answers and did not cheat. Boyle (Trainspotting) directs with high energy and velocity, from a sly screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty), resulting in a grime-caked feel-good film.

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir: David Fincher; w/Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton) Curious indeed is this epic tale of a lad who is born old and grows younger with age, a fate with tragic consequences as it turns out. Fincher lightens his usual touch, masters the digital imagery necessary to spin this yarn persuasively, but never lets the effects overshadow the story. Pitt has never been better and the always impressive Blanchett is heart-breaking. Truly unlike anything you have seen before.

5. The Reader (dir: Stephen Daldry; w/Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes) Bernhard Schlink’s post-World War II coming-of-age story takes a dark turn when a German teen initiated into the wonders of sex by a strong-willed streetcar ticket taker (Winslet) grows up and learns that she was a former concentration camp guard. Winslet’s performance is Oscar-worthy with its expressive, inward emotions and Fiennes underplays expertly as the adult, damaged central character.

Philippe Petit walks on a high wire at
the World Trade Center in 'Man on Wire.'


6. Man on Wire (dir: James Marsh; w/Philippe Petit) An ingenious documentary of high-wire walker Petit, who famously walked between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. But this film is more interested in how he and his team sneaked into the building and got their equipment up to the roof. Marsh turns their story into a pulse-quickening break-in saga and Petit recalls and recreates the walk in poetic detail.

7. The Visitor (dir: Tom McCarthy; w/Richard Jenkins) A character study of a dissatisfied professor in mid-midlife crisis suddenly turns into a political portrait of how our government treats illegal aliens detained inside our borders. Jenkins, the perpetual character actor, gets a rare opportunity to be the center of attention and he delivers a performance of exquisite subtlety.

8. American Teen (dir: Nanette Burstein; w/Hannah Bailey, Mitch Reinholt) A clinical look at the high-pressure high school life for a handful of Indiana senior year students who grapple with their social lives, college applications and the big game and it is surprising how much we become invested in their aspirations and exasperations. It would be hard not to identify with these kids or to see how trivial some of their worries will soon be to them.

Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley in 'Elegy.'

9. Elegy (dir: Isabel Coixet; w/Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz) Based on a Philip Roth novella about an academic lion-in-winter (Kingsley), a professor/predator who regularly beds his female students and thinks nothing of it until he starts having feelings for one (Cruz). As the title suggests, death and dying will play a part in the story, but in unexpected ways. After several small character roles recently, Kingsley gives a major, steel-infused performance and Cruz has never been more vulnerable.

10. Wall*E (dir: Andrew Stanton; w/ voice of Ben Burtt) Pixar has long been pushing the bounds of digital animation and seeing what inanimate objects it can make cuddly. The studio succeeds again, this time with an eco-friendly trash-compacting robot out to clean up the planet who manages to find love along the way. Technically impressive, it aims for an emotional response and gets it because of strong storytelling. The musical quotes from Hello, Dolly! are just an bonus.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

ArtsBuzz: Upcoming music events

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor.

By Greg Stepanich

ArtsPaper has been around only a little longer than a month, but the e-mails are starting to pile up. Here are three recent notes from my musical inbox about upcoming events:

Walter Salas-Humara, solo: The frontman for the band The Silos, which has gotten a bunch of good press in the past from outfits such as Spin magazine, returns to his South Florida roots with a show Friday at My Coffee House Gallery in West Palm Beach. Salas-Humara, who grew up in Little Havana, writes reflective, melodically plainspoken songs that remind me a good deal of John Hiatt.

Bill Perry, who manages the music at My Coffee House, says the show will last from 8-10 p.m. Admission is $5. Call My Coffee House for more information at 853-5748.

Soloists named for Boca's Ninth: This year's Festival of the Arts Boca will close Sunday, March 15, with the Russian National Orchestra and the Master Chorale of South Florida under Itzhak Perlman in the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven.

The four soloists for this most remarkable of symphonies were named earlier this month, and they are: soprano Layla Claire, who will sing Susanna in Marriage of Figaro next year with the Palm Beach Opera; mezzo Kelley O'Connor, a dark-voiced Grammy winner who sang this work and Bernstein's Jeremiah Symphony early last year in Miami with the Cleveland Orchestra (she can be seen at the top of this entry); tenor John Tessier, a young Canadian who got good reviews earlier this year for his Almaviva at the English National Opera; and bass Kyle Ketelsen, who sang Leporello earlier this year at the Royal Opera Covent Garden.

It's a strong lineup, and should add some emerging star power to the finale of the third Boca festival, which has mounted some impressive concerts in the past. For more information, call 1-866-571-2787 or visit the festival Website.

Duelling Divas: Two Florida sopranos, Birgit Fioravante and Wendy Reynolds, have teamed up with Florida Atlantic University's Heather Coltman for an operatic sendup called Duelling Divas that has picked up some decent media buzz. This is classical music geek humor of a kind that kept people like Victor Borge and Peter Schickele busy and touring for decades (I did some myself as a teenager, playing piano for a comedic bit featuring a singer who called herself Brunnhilde Benzene).

The divas -- Baronness Vladka von Loudenstimme (Fioravante) and Gwendoline Josephine Bellevoix Bouvier (Reynolds) -- and pianist Coltman as the eye-rollingly named Paige Turner, can be seen in this YouTube video touting their rivalry and their show, called The Battle Begins. The humor appeals to a specific taste, but the video, and their Website, demonstrate that amid all the tomfoolery are three fine musicians, which is critical for any long-term success of a project like this.

The divas have commanded me to appear at their shows this coming weekend, though I don't think I can make it. But if you can, they can be seen at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 3, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 4. Ticket prices range from $10 to $35 and can be had by calling 305-674-1040 or visiting Ticketmaster.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Commentary: Looking back on 2008 theater, with a wink and a wince


By Hap Erstein
Some traditions die hard, like The Hapsters, those annual dubious achievement awards that celebrate the past year in theater.

It turns out they did not die with my exit from The Palm Beach Post, but were lurking nearby in limbo, waiting to go electronic. So here, for the 15th straight year, are the slightly bent Hapster Awards, looking back on 2008:

The Carbonells: Now you don't see them, now you do: South Florida’s theater community was shocked and puzzled when the board of directors of those other awards, the venerable Carbonells, abruptly announced that the 33-year-old program would suspend operations beginning in 2009. Many reasons were given, the least convincing being the high cost of gasoline, just as pump prices were tumbling.

Lots of groups, including the Theatre League of South Florida and an ad-hoc committee of area theater critics, tried to come up with solutions to the problem, hampered by not being privy to what the problem was. Less than three weeks later, the board changed its decision with a wave of its hand and a statemen that could be summed up best as: “Oh, never mind.”

"Tonight, the part normally played by ...": Most South Florida theaters cannot afford understudies, substituting crossed fingers for any real plan in case an actor becomes suddenly indisposed. That works more often than not, except for one specific week this November.

During the final matinee preview of Noises Off at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, actor Christopher Kelley took an unscheduled pratfall, crashing into an onstage table, leaving him in need of emergency room stitches and leaving the theater to cancel that evening’s opening.

Two nights later, at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, lead actor Benjamin Schrader struggled to shake off a flu during preview week of She Loves Me. When he wasn’t well by opening night, an actor from Orlando who had done the role recently was called in and the show went on -- sort of -- in a scripts-and-chairs concert version of the show.

Yes, but is he Celsius or Fahrenheit?: Jeremy Piven, star of television’s Entourage, got great reviews on Broadway in David Mamet’s show biz satire, Speed-the-Plow. Then, two months before the play’s run was scheduled to end, he startled his fellow cast members and certainly the production’s investors by walking out and flying back to Los Angeles, insisting he was suffering from a “high level of mercury.”

Although Mamet was angered by the abrupt exit, it did not stop him from getting off one of the best lines of the year. Commenting on Piven’s mysterious ailment, Mamet told Daily Variety, “My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”

Royal Poinciana landmarked but still shuttered: The closed, mildewing Royal Poinciana Playhouse, which has won more Hapster Awards than even Jan McArt -- sorry, Jan, no Hapster for you this year, but we thought you’d appreciate the mention -- received landmark status from the Palm Beach Town Council. The Palm Beach Theatre Guild, which has been working to get the building opened for the past four-and-a-half years (or at least take a look inside) considers the council’s move a victory for its cause.

In fact, what it does is quash the plan by the Playhouse’s new owner to bring theater back to the island by replacing the existing performance space with a 350-seat multi-use theater.

Hapster trades in aisle seat for stage role: When my overly exuberant cousin-in-law heard that Mosaic Theatre was auctioning off a walk-on role in a future production, she bid on it for my sake at a fundraiser for the Plantation company and -- since no one else wanted the questionable item -- she “won” it.

When artistic director Richard Jay Simon learned I would be using the gift, he not only came up with an especially appropriate part (a grieving-but-silent mourner in Neil LaBute’s Wrecks), but also offered free tickets to area actors if they would attend and review my performance, calling it “a unique opportunity to get even.”

Several actors took him up on it and either they actually liked my acting or they had not yet heard that I would soon be leaving my job at the Palm Beach Post and they didn’t have to suck up to me anymore.

Where there's smoke, there may not be fire: In John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God, the playwright specifically made his skeptical psychiatrist character a chain-smoker. But director William Hayes, knowing his cranky, cough-prone audience would rebel if forced to sit in a room with billowing smoke, had actress Lisa Morgan puff on unlit cigarettes for most of the evening. Even worse, he wrote a program insert calling attention to the politically correct, but dramatically distracting directorial choice.

The 28-year-old, rarely revived play remained under its own cloud of smoke.

Kravis Center invents its own Broadway: After wondering why it was paying a middleman to produce a Broadway-style subscription series for its Dreyfoos Hall, the Kravis Center inaugurated its own slate of road shows this fall. What they came up with, while Broadway is getting hip with shows such as Spring Awakening, In the Heights and Passing Strange, was hardly earth-shattering.

It kicked off with Avenue Q, which had already played South Florida the previous season, and would have fit better in the Royal Poinciana Playhouse (See above). Still to come is the perpetually revived Fiddler on the Roof (starring a 73-year-old Topol), a non-union stage version of The Wizard of Oz (that will never be seen on Broadway) and the teen and tween fave, Legally Blonde.

As to that one, based on the Reese Witherspoon movie, give the tickets to your grandchildren.

From the We Have Our Doubts Department: Two comebacks we did not see coming and still cannot get our minds around:

* The Coconut Grove Playhouse -- Closed for two-and-a-half years with an unexpected $4 million of debts, the revered and maligned 50-plus-year-old Miami theater has a plan to rise from its own ashes. It would replace its still-existing 1,100-seat playhouse with a 300-seat space, surrounded by retail and condos, perhaps as early as 2012. Wanna bet the condos happen long before the theater does?

* Gary Waldman and Jamison Troutman -- These two producing partners used to run the Atlantis Playhouse, which closed abruptly three years ago, leaving in its wake many distraught subscribers. In 2006, they left the area for what they hoped would be more fertile ground in Biloxi, Miss. Well, they are back, landing in Wilton Manors at the former 26th Street Theatre, currently in previews with a re-run of their Paul Simon revue and perhaps a reprise of their Carbonell-winning The Life to follow.

May I suggest you only buy single tickets?

In Memoriam: 2008 saw the loss of many important figures in the theater world, both locally and nationally. The Hapster tips his hat in tribute to:

Jack Zink: Sun-Sentinel theater and arts critic, first editor of Palm Beach Post’s TGIF section, founder and guiding force of the Carbonell Awards.

Bruce Adler: Tony Award-nominated Broadway star (Crazy for You) and local stage veteran.

Harold Pinter: British playwright (The Homecoming, The Birthday Party, Betrayal) and Nobel Prize winner, who elevated the pause to an art.

Paul Newman: Stage-screen actor (original casts of Picnic, Sweet Bird of Youth)

Paul Scofield: British actor (Tony and Oscar winner, A Man for All Seasons)

Dale Wasserman: Playwright (Man of La Mancha, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Film review: 'Benjamin Button' is curious -- but sublimely so


By Hap Erstein

Director David Fincher has built a career on such dark, disquieting dramas as
Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac. So it is surprising to find him at the helm of a thoughtful, but fanciful romantic epic like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a triumph of special effects in service to solid storytelling.

Based very loosely on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name, this is a fable about a man swimming against the tide of life, aging backwards from an old, but baby-sized, arthritic geezer through an eventful existence that spans most of the 20th century and ends with him as a youth suffering from senility.


Along the way, Benjamin meets and falls in love with a headstrong girl named Daisy -- a very Fitzgerald moniker -- but since her aging process is more conventional, their lifelong relationship is out of synch more often than not.

Brad Pitt stars as Benjamin, a wide-eyed observer of the world around him, a blank slate character not unlike Forrest Gump. It is surely no coincidence that that earlier, wildly popular film and this substantially less sentimental tale were both written by Eric Roth. Roth has a habit of underlining his themes with greeting card aphorisms, from Gump’s box-of-chocolates motto to such tidy Benjamin Button truisms on the unpredictability of life (“You never know what’s comin’ for you”) and its ephemeral nature (“Nothing ever lasts.”)

The film’s structure is more like that of a novel than a short story, with discrete chapter divisions on Benjamin’s alarming birth, his deposit at a nursing home, his adventures at sea, his first romantic encounter with a woman determined to swim the English Channel (Tilda Swinton), the arrival of a kindly stranger, Benjamin’s adult pursuit of Daisy and his later -- which is to say younger -- years.

The entire history of Benjamin Button is framed by an elderly Daisy, on what looks likely to be her New Orleans hospital deathbed, attended by her daughter (Julia Ormond), who reads her Benjamin’s journals. Roth adds in Hurricane Katrina heading to shore, a handy time marker and perhaps a symbol of life’s precarious nature, but it is a dramatic tangent that never really pays off.

The vagaries of fate are far better illustrated by a masterfully directed sequence in which classical ballerina Daisy sees her dance career come to a sudden end in Paris because a series of unrelated events are aligned. Fincher, whose past work was all cold, hard edges, shows remarkable affinity for Benjamin’s story, wooing moviegoers to buy into the fantasy and get caught up in its emotional consequences.

He is aided considerably by the make-up of Greg Cannom as well as the digital wizardry that pastes Pitt’s face on various smaller bodies. The visual image trumps Pitt’s performance, but this is surely his most accomplished work on screen, carrying the film, making the impossible plausible.

Blanchett spans a similar series of ages, from a gawky teen to a lithe, graceful dancer to the bedridden aged Daisy under layers of latex makeup. Taraji P. Henson makes a strong impression as the caring African-American woman who becomes Benjamin’s surrogate mother and Swinton is quirky and tender as his first love.

The film clocks in at almost three hours, with plenty of story tangents, but each is justified, adding to the portrait of this extraordinary character in his journey through life.


Dance review: Ballet Florida's engaging 'Nutcracker'


By Greg Stepanich

WEST PALM BEACH -- It doesn't take a great ballet company to make a successful Nutcracker. In many cases, all a dance group has to do is go heavy on the cute factor with mouse suits and child dancers, and a holiday-minded audience ready to embrace it eagerly does so.

Then again, it does takes a fine company to demonstrate just how much can be made of this evergreen relic of Imperial Russia, and South Florida is singularly fortunate in that such an engaging, delightful, flat-out excellent version of the work is mounted season after Christmas season by Marie Hale's Ballet Florida.

Tuesday night's performance of The Nutcracker showed again why this production of Tchaikovsky's final ballet has been for cherished for years, and richly deserves it. Here is a Nutcracker that takes the full opportunity presented by E.T.A. Hoffman's strange, magical story to explore costume, color, special effects and inventive choreography that is always moving, never static.

In crafting her reading of the show, Hale has not lost sight of the essential whimsy of this scenario, a whimsy that appeals on a fundamental gee-whiz level to children and to adult viewers who willingly open a door marked "Dazzle." Amid the wonderful bits of showmanship -- the silver swan carriage that floats in from the rafters, a flying carpet that rolls in for the divertissements of Act II, the fall of glittery snow on the stage and then the audience at the end of Act I -- there is in the Ballet Florida production other basic things that make the presentation so successful.

Chief among them are the impressive color coordination of lighting, costume and scenery, so that each tableau has its own distinct, memorable tint, and the overall spit-and-polish precision of every person on stage down to the tiniest dancer. One gets the sense of a unified production that knows where it is going, what it is doing, and is confident it can charm the socks off its audience.

All this would be less than the sum of its parts, though, if the principal dancers were less than striking. But they are first-rate, from the sinuous, slow-motion acrobatics of Lorena Jimenez and Tracy Mozingo in the Arabian dance to the fresh athleticism of Yuan Xi and Mauricio Canete as Clara and her prince, to the regal work of Mifa Ko and Gary Lenington as the snow queen and king. Each of the other soloists -- Tina Martin and Shannon Smith as the dewdrop and her cavalier, Marife Gimenez and Douglas Gawriljuk as the sugar plum fairy and her cavalier, and Deborah Marquez as the chief bon-bon -- was every bit as accomplished.

But ultimately the best thing about these dancers is how well their solo turns topped off and extended the overall quality of the show itself, and of the entire company, which had few noticeable weak spots: The wind that accompanies the flying carpet is perhaps not the best idea, since it drowns out the opening of the Arabian dance, and the tree in the Silberhaus home slithered rather than climbed as it grew.

But these are very minor points. Overall, the magic works on stage and it informs the whole production with a sense of playfulness and beauty that makes this Nutcracker perhaps the most consistently enjoyable and effective that I've ever seen. (Perhaps some day there will be a live orchestra in the pit, which would make it even more festive.)

The Canadian writer Robertson Davies once recommended a book by Max Beerbohm for reading on Christmas, and closed with the advice that if you can "creep away for a couple hours on the Great Day (to read it), there can be no doubt whatever about the merriment of your Christmas." I'd like to borrow a version of that peroration for this review: Get a chance to see Ballet Florida's Nutcracker, and you're guaranteed to add to your holiday joy.

Ballet Florida's 17th annual performances of The Nutcracker continue at 7 p.m. today (Christmas Day), 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday. At the Kravis Center, West Palm Beach. Tickets: $20-$75. Call 659-2000 or 832-7469 for tickets or more information, or visit www.balletflorida.org or www.kravis.org.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Weekend Arts Picks

Daniel Ricardo Teran,
a resident artist and teacher
at the Armory Arts Center,
recently demonstrated his
wheel-throwing techniques to the
Ceramic League of the Palm Beaches,
which met at The Craft Gallery recently.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

Armory Arts Center: As we are busy with holiday festivities, visiting local art galleries and museums can add quiet contemplation time.

And then, as we begin to think about the new year and how it will be different from the one that's about to end, why not take a moment to contemplate just how we can bring more joy into our lives and those of others?

If you resolve to be more creative, think about signing up for a class at the Armory Arts Center and explore the joys of artistic expression. Classes in ceramics, sculpture, painting, printmaking, drawing and jewelry-making are offered by the talented faculty, as well as internationally famous artists who teach master-class workshops.

It’s not too late to register for the next session, which begins Jan. 5 and runs through Feb. 28. If you are doing any last-minute shopping for gifts, a class may be just the ticket to bring joy into a loved one’s life. Register online at www.armoryart.org or call the Armory at (561) 832-1776.

Although the Armory Arts Center is closed for the weekend, you will have from Monday until Jan. 3 to visit the shows currently on exhibit, which include Random Thoughts by Harry Anderson.

His passion for combining collected objects from the early- and mid-20th century (many of which he found in junkyards or yard sales) evolved into a fascinating exhibition of sculptures that in an anthropomorphic manner eerily calls us back to our past. The Armory Arts Center is at 1700 Parker Ave. in West Palm Beach.

Another place to get in touch with your inner artist is The Craft Gallery at 5911 S. Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, where classes in ceramics and glass-fusion are being offered. For a class schedule, call owner Betty Wilson at (561) 585-7744. -- K. Deits

Monday, December 22, 2008

Film: Florida Film Critics' best of 2008 (and my rebuttals)

Ayush Mahesh Khedekar in a scene
from Slumdog Millionaire.

By Hap Erstein

’Tis the season . . . For year-end film awards from critics’ groups, like the Florida Film Critics Circle, which I belong to and vote in, now representing
Palm Beach ArtsPaper.

All such groups like to believe that they are a bellwether of the Oscars and FFCC at least did select what became the Academy Award-winning best picture for the past two years (
No Country for Old Men and The Departed). This year, the group went for Danny Boyle inventive rags-to-riches tale in Mumbai, India, Slumdog Millionaire, as the top picture.

That’s fine with me, though my vote went to
Milk, the biography of slain gay San Francisco city official Harvey Milk.

Here are the rest of the group’s top vote-getters and, in parentheses, my choices:

*
Best actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (My choice: Sean Penn, Milk)

*
Best actress: Melissa Leo, Frozen River (Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long)

* Best supporting actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (Agreed)

*
Best supporting actress: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler (Viola Davis, Doubt)

*
Best director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (Gus Van Sant, Milk)

*
Best screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire (Dustin Lance Black, Milk)

*
Best cinematography: Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight (Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire)

*
Best foreign-language film: Let The Right One In (I’ve Loved You For So Long)

*
Best animated feature: Wall*E (Agreed)

*
Best documentary: Man on Wire (Agreed)

* Pauline Kael Breakout Award: Martin McDonagh, writer/director of In Bruges (Agreed)

*
Golden Orange Award (for outstanding contribution to film in Florida): Dick Morris of Sarasota Film Society (Abstained)

On the whole, I liked the group’s choices, especially when they agreed with mine. I don’t have nearly the enthusiasm of the group for
The Wrestler, a both brutal and maudlin yarn about a broken-down wrestler trying for a comeback.

But on the other hand, I am pleased that Melissa Leo was singled out for her performance as a desperate mother trying to keep her family together in
Frozen River. It is dark and downbeat and played locally for about a minute. Do seek it out on DVD. She and Thomas are in such small, but worthy films that the Academy usually ignores.

Next week, I will be posting my 10 Best List for 2008, but you already know that the top spot goes to
Milk.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Theater review: Dramaworks masters the absurd in 'The Chairs'

Dan Leonard and Barbara Bradshaw
are Old Man and Old Woman in
Palm Beach Dramaworks' production
of The Chairs.


By Hap Erstein
Need a reminder that life has no meaning? You could either turn on the news or head to Palm Beach Dramaworks and catch the company’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs.

Ionesco, a major figure of the Theater of the Absurd movement, took a dim view of human existence, but at least he did so with a wry sense of humor. Consider, for instance, his 1952 “tragic farce” about that meaninglessness, as well as our inability to communicate with each other.

To illustrate his point, he presents an elderly couple — Old Man (Dan Leonard) and Old Woman (Barbara Bradshaw) — who busy themselves by dragging onstage dozens of wooden chairs. They are preparing for the arrival of an Orator, a man only slightly more prompt than Samuel Beckett’s Godot, who will present the Old Man’s philosophy of life. Until then, the couple has its hands full greeting and conversing with their arriving, invisible, probably imaginary guests.

As if that premise were not absurd enough, it was given an additional comic spin by British playwright Martin Crimp, whose adaptation of The Chairs was showered with Tony nominations when it arrived on Broadway last year. Reports of that production suggest that the play became a proverbial “laugh riot,” while the Dramaworks version, staged by resident director J. Barry Lewis, seems more intent on establishing a melancholic mood with only occasional outbreaks of comedy.

Much of the humor comes from Pekinese-coiffed Bradshaw, one of the few area actors who can induce giggles by shuffling her feet. In the course of the compact, 80-minute evening, she adds a comically provocative tushy twitch, a risible crying jag and her tour de force, a fast-forward chair-lugging ballet which owes much to theatrical sleight-of-hand.

Leonard is a cut below Bradshaw, but he will do, notably when asked by her to do February and he launches into an endearing impersonation of Stan Laurel. If that is not a definition of absurdism, what is?

The two actors ping-pong dialogue to one another, reminiscing and bemoaning their pasts, which they recall quite differently. Much of it is defies logic and is repetitive, but if you let your mind detach from the expectations of rational sense, it has a satisfying poetic quality.

Michael Amico does his usual first-rate job with the scenic design, a room with enough doors and floor-to-ceiling windows to suggest the farcical potential in the play. Todd Wren’s lighting sets the autumnal mood and conveys a few of the script’s specified special effects, at least by Dramaworks’ standards.

Eventually The Orator (Shel Shanak) does show up, outfitted for Italian commedia dell’arte by way of Elvis Presley. But if you are still expecting to hear wisdom from him by that point, you have not been paying attention to Ionesco’s comic pessimism.

THE CHAIRS, Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach, continuing to Feb. 1. Tickets: $40-$42, Call: (561) 514-4042.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Film review: No 'Doubt' about the superlative performances

Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius in Doubt.

By Hap Erstein
Hollywood demands happy endings that will leave an audience reassured and uplifted. John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play — and now movie — prefers disquieting ambiguity.

But if he has no intention of presenting us with the answer to the moral puzzle he spins (not whodunit, but did-he-do-it), as least Shanley offers a juicy trio of scenery-chewing performances to enjoy along the way. The Oscar-winning screenwriter (Moonstruck) plops himself in the director’s chair for only the second time — 18 years after the less-than-satisfying, allegorical Joe Versus the Volcano and he knows enough to get out of the way of actors of the caliber of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis.

As with Frost/Nixon, the other major release this month that stems from the stage, Doubt boils down to a stand-off between two opposite forces with vastly different views of the world.

On the one hand is stern, professionally suspicious Sister Aloysius (Streep), principal of the Bronx’s St. Nicholas Catholic School, a woman who prides herself on seeing things in black and white. The first time we see her, she is peeking out of a black bonnet, slapping students into sitting up straight in church or yelling them awake. She sees herself as a disciplinarian and that requires going through life with unwavering certainty.

As it happens, the sermon that Sunday morning is about doubt, delivered by affable, compassionate Father Flynn (Hoffman), the kind of priest who understands the value of the color gray, a guy who would be hard not to like.

Yet when a young chipper nun (Amy Adams) reports to Aloysius that Flynn had a private meeting in the rectory with 12-year-old Donald Miller, the first black student ever admitted to the school, Aloysius becomes convinced that Flynn made “inappropriate” advances on the boy, a hunch that hardens into certainty.

The movie is set in 1964, at the time when Shanley was attending parochial school. But the time frame is also at a crafty distance from the frequent reports of sexual abuse by priests in recent years.

Shanley and teddy bear-ish Hoffman have us on Flynn’s side from the start. The priest is apparently only taking an avuncular interest in the outcast child, whereas the narrow-minded Aloysius is suspicious of Flynn for such crimes as using ballpoint pens, taking large amounts of sugar in his tea and being in favor of secular holiday carols.

As played with a broad Bronx accent and squinty, bespectacled eyes by Streep, Aloysius is every task master teacher any of us every had, and we are quickly repelled by her. But nothing is certain in Doubt, and Shanley’s clever, if wordy, screenplay will whipsaw viewers’ allegiances without ever definitively tipping its hand.

Shanley’s adaptation of his play is pretty rudimentary. He opens the story out, showing us the church rituals, the blue-collar community and, significantly, little Donald. But it remains a compact and brief (97 minutes) story, intriguing, but not really as substantial as the Pulitzer would imply. Nor is Shanley much of a director, leaning on the use of tilted camera shots and literal illustrations of Flynn’s sermons, while keeping matters claustrophobic.

Whether he had much effect on his cast’s acting choices, Shanley gets some terrific performances from his principals, including a couple of nose-to-nose confrontations between Streep and Hoffman that are especially electric. And for sheer larcenous scene-stealing, you cannot beat Davis as Donald’s fiercely protective mother, called to Aloysius’ office for a conference and ready to look the other way from wrong-doing.

Still, it is the performances that linger, rather than the issues involved. Doubt is definitely a film to put on your holiday must-see list — albeit second-tier — for the textbook tour-de-force acting, not the insights to the crisis facing our religious institutions.

Weekend Arts Picks

GEORGE PLATT LYNES (American, 1907–1955):
Jean Cocteau, 1934. Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in.
Gift of Baroness Jeane von Oppenheim
in honor of Charles Stainback, 2006.18.
© Estate of George Platt Lynes

Art: Only a couple of weeks are left to see two of the outstanding exhibitions at the Norton Museum of Art: "A Tradition Redefined: Chinese Paintings from the Chu-tsing Li Collection" and "Coming into Focus:
 Jeane von Oppenheim and Photography at the Norton, 1998-2008." Both exhibits end Jan. 4. The Chu-tsing Li Collection shows the dramatic evolution of Chinese painting from 1950-2000 and the effect of international artistic influences on the painters. The photography exhibition offers the opportunity to see some masters of the art world. You can also get some of your holiday shopping done while at the Norton, as its museum shop has unusual and artistic gifts, jewelry and books from around the world. The Norton Museum of Art is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission to the special exhibition is $12 for adults and $5 for young adults ages 13-21— and free to members and children. For more information, visit www.norton.org, or call (561) 832-5196. — K. Deits

Opera: The Metropolitan Opera's very successful live HD broadcasts of opera continue Saturday with Thaïs, Jules Massenet's 1894 tale of the courtesan and the monk who tries to convert her but falls in love instead. With Renee Fleming as Thaïs and Thomas Hampson as Athanael; the conductor is Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Begins at noon Saturday, and can be seen in select local commercial theaters — Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton, Delray 18 in Delray Beach, and the Royal Palm Stadium 18 in Royal Palm Beach — or at the Society for the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Tickets: $22; for the Four Arts, call (561) 655-7226. — G. Stepanich

And don't forget: The season's last Messiah performances take place at 8 p.m. Friday in Miami at the Arsht Center, where professional chamber choir Seraphic Fire offers its version of the oratorio. And at 5 p.m. Sunday, Palm Beachers will gather at the Royal Poinciana Chapel as they have for years now to hear the Masterworks Chorus of the Palm Beaches under conductor Jack Jones do its annual presentation of Handel's 1742 masterwork. For Seraphic Fire, tickets range from $15 to $75. Call (305) 949-6722 or (866) 949-6722, or visit www.seraphicfire.org. For Masterworks, tickets are $20 ($10 for students K-12). Call (561) 845-9696, or visit www.masterworkschorusofthepalmbeaches.com. — G. Stepanich

FILM: There have been plenty of movies about dysfunctional families reuniting for the holidays, like the current so-so Hispanic-tinged effort from Hollywood, Nothing Like the Holidays, but few have been as artful as A Christmas Tale, director-writer Arnaud Desplechin’s Franch spin on the genre, starring Catherine Deneuve as a clan matriarch who happens to need a bone marrow transplant. At Lake Worth’s Emerging Cinema, beginning Friday. Call (561) 296-9382 for show times. — H. Erstein

Barbara Bradshaw and Dan Leonard
with director J. Barry Lewis in The Chairs.

THEATER: Eugene Ionesco wrote what he called “anti-plays” that avoided character development or plot logic, like his 1952 The Chairs, dusted off by Martin Crimp in a new, more comic adaptation that opens Friday at Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach. Barbara Bradshaw and Dan Leonard star as an elderly couple dragging chairs onstage for the imminent arrival of a sage Orator. What it all means is bound to be the basis of a heated post-show discussion on your ride home. Tickets are $40-$42, available by calling (561) 514-4042. — H. Erstein

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Music review: Trio shines in Beethoven Triple Concerto


By Greg Stepanich

PALM BEACH — It's true, as the program notes indicated, that the Triple Concerto of Beethoven gets slight respect from scholars, but the Goldstein-Kaler-Peled Trio made as a good a case for this hybrid work Tuesday night as you could hope to hear.

Appearing at the Society of the Four Arts with the Palm Beach Symphony, the three players — pianist Alon Goldstein, violinist Ilya Kaler, and cellist Amit Peled — brought out every persuasive quality of the concerto and did so in exemplary fashion. Although the concerto deserves more critical respect, there's no denying it can be hard to pull off, and yet here all of the oddities of the piece sounded innovatory, all of its melodies sounded lyrically inspired.

The trio did this simply by playing each of their parts with explicit attention to detail and a shared similarity of interpretive intensity. In the finale, for instance, Peled made sure to make the cadence suggested by the last two notes of the theme as crisp as possible, and in lockstep with the symphony's violins behind him. A small thing, but it gives the melody its full shape and burns it in the listener's memory.

Peled's work in the second movement also was exceptional; his beautiful playing of the lovely opening theme made me think that in this brief moment is the Beethoven Cello Concerto that might have been, especially given how effective the composer's writing is for the instrument here and throughout the piece. Kaler and Goldstein were every bit as good: the violinist's powerfully focused tone brought strength as well as passion to bear, and the pianist's cool, high-gloss sound was a fine foil for his evident pleasure in making much of the impish aspects of this concerto.

Technical challenges such as the blizzards of downward rushing scales in the finale were no obstacle to the members of the GKP Trio (anyone for a catchier name, by the way?), and instead confirmed and amplified the concerto's structure as a multi-soloist excursion of unique sonic colors and that sense of improvisation that's so basic, and so crucial, to Beethoven's art.

It was a most fitting tribute to the composer on the 238th anniversary Tuesday of his birth, and the trio followed its performance of the Triple Concerto with a rendition that Peled dedicated to his father of the slow movement of Beethoven's early Trio in B-flat, Op. 11. This, too, was masterfully played by the trio — they played the same work in a Four Arts concert Sunday — and listeners could hear, perhaps more than in the concerto, how well the three men work together as a team.

The concerto occupied the second half of an all-Beethoven program that featured two orchestral works: the Pastorale Symphony (No. 6 in F, Op. 68) and the Coriolan Overture. Conductor Ray Robinson, who was a nimble accompanist in the Triple Concerto, has in his ensemble some of the best-known, busiest freelance musicians in the area, and the relatively small size of the orchestra showed them off to decent effect.

This Palm Beach Symphony performance in several ways made a case for performing Beethoven symphonies with chamber-size forces; there's something refreshing, and authentic, about hearing the imitative-folk stylings of the piece on fewer instruments. Robinson's reading of the work was straightforward, sensible and unmannered, with a nice brisk tempo for the second movement (must keep that brook babbling). But that movement also was marred by some very out-of-tune descending horns towards the end, and the ruckus raised in the fourth movement's storm might have been underwhelming for those used to bigger orchestras.

All told, though, it was an intelligently conceived, generally well-played performance of this canonical work, and if it was missing something in grandeur, it gained something in clarity and renewed appreciation for the details of Beethoven's craft.

The Coriolan Overture that opened the concert was less successful for two reasons: A lack of really tight ensemble for the sucker punches of the opening bars, and a main theme that was much too slow; too slow, anyway, to give the narrative thrust of the writing the energy it needs to be exciting.

The Palm Beach Symphony's second concert, set for Friday, Jan. 30, will feature three yet-to-be-announced pianists in the sole orchestral event of the Palm Beach Atlantic International Piano Festival. Works scheduled are by Beethoven (Concerto No. 1 in C), Franck (the Variations Symphoniques), and Liszt (Concerto No. 2 in A), along with the Tragic Overture of Brahms. Ramon Tebar conducts, in a concert that begins at 7:30 pm in the DeSantis Family Chapel on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach. Tickets: $45. Call the orchestra box office at 607-6270 for tickets or more information.