Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dance preview: Miami City Ballet's 'Romeo' set for Kravis

Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra.
(Photo by Lois Greenfield)

By Gretel Sarmiento

Following impressive performances at the Arsht Center,‭ ‬the Miami City Ballet’s production of‭ ‬Romeo and Juliet,‭ ‬which opens tomorrow at the Kravis Center,‭ ‬is quickly establishing itself as the company’s newest,‭ ‬and biggest,‭ ‬hit.‭

The company is mounting legendary South African choreographer John Cranko’s setting of the story,‭ ‬to the‭ ‬1940‭ ‬score by Sergei Prokofiev.‭

Part of the buzz generated comes as a result of the real-life love birds dancing the lead roles on opening night.‭ ‬Soloists Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra have been married for five years‭ (‬officially on May‭ ‬1‭) ‬but have only been Romeo and Juliet for a weekend.‭ ‬But so far,‭ ‬they have given electrifying performances.

During a recent phone interview,‭ ‬Kronenberg struggled to find the words to describe the experience of doing this ballet with her husband.‭ ‬When she finally talks,‭ ‬she calls it‭ “‬fulfilling,‭” ‬and adds‭ “‬probably the most special weekend I have ever experienced.‭”

That is to say a lot.‭ ‬She has danced plenty of beautiful roles,‭ ‬both contemporary and classical,‭ ‬but this role was magical for her,‭ ‬given the fact that the same rush Juliet experiences she too felt not so long ago.‭

Although the attention seems to revolve around the graceful pair,‭ ‬they are not the only ones committed to the lead characters in this production,‭ ‬which celebrates the company’s‭ ‬25-year anniversary.‭ ‬Haiyan Wu,‭ ‬who played Juliet during the Saturday matinee at the Adrienne Arsht,‭ ‬embodied the innocence,‭ ‬youth and impulsiveness of this Shakespearean character just as well.‭ ‬In the arms of her Romeo‭ (‬danced by Yann Trividic‭) ‬she moved like a feather and carried out rehearsed gestures and reactions with a spontaneity that made them seem as if the thoughts had just entered her head.‭

The expression after receiving her first dress from her mother,‭ ‬Lady Capulet,‭ (‬Act I‭) ‬is of a jovial sheltered girl whose surroundings could not be more beautiful and safe.‭ ‬As the story evolves,‭ ‬the young girl finds herself making important grown-up decisions,‭ ‬such as marrying Romeo in secret.

By the third scene of Act‭ ‬III,‭ ‬Juliet contemplates whether to take the sleeping potion that would temporarily make her appear dead.‭ ‬She grabs the bottle,‭ ‬then drops it and moves away from it.‭ ‬She hesitates at the horror of what she is about to do and the suffering it would bring to her parents.

Carlos Guerra and Jennifer Kronenberg in Romeo and Juliet.
(Photo by Kyle Froman)

Then she remembers this is a small necessary sacrifice in order to be with Romeo forever.‭ ‬She drinks it and crawls back to bed.‭

The transformation Juliet undergoes from fragile to defiant,‭ ‬naïve to mature,‭ ‬made the role irresistible for Kronenberg.‭ “‬She is so complex,‭” ‬she said.

Acting is a very big part of this production,‭ ‬from the carnival clowns,‭ ‬whose synchronized steps make the audience laugh,‭ ‬to the authoritative figures of Verona,‭ ‬whose entrance to the stage is announced with Prokofiev’s commanding music.‭ ‬Funny marketplace exchanges,‭ ‬gossip,‭ ‬and sword duels provide an entertaining pause from the dreamy romantic spell achieved beautifully in several scenes including the balcony‭ ‬pas de deux.‭

Romeo,‭ ‬calling out to Juliet,‭ ‬appears strong and vulnerable at the same time.‭ ‬Juliet,‭ ‬still cautious,‭ ‬decides to follow her instincts.‭ ‬This is Kronenberg’s favorite scene.

Those attending should not expect the strong makeup,‭ ‬dark costumes or aggressive moves of a‭ ‬Swan Lake.‭ ‬That is Tchaikovsky’s tale of betrayal and deception.‭ ‬This is about a young impulsive love that refuses to be rationalized and keeps its promises.‭ ‬It is also about passion and loss.‭

There is no black-swan metamorphosis,‭ ‬nothing close to‭ ‬Giselle’s insanity and no explosive‭ ‬fouettés or any of the steps that traditionally let a dancer show off and get an audience on their feet.‭ ‬And that is the amazing thing:‭ ‬that considering the ballet has no single distinctive highlight,‭ ‬it still makes spectators stand up and remember it vividly long after the curtain falls.

At the absence of flamboyant displays and costumes the performance’s real strengths emerge.‭ ‬We then appreciate the light fabrics that seem to float around the stage,‭ ‬the music marrying the soft duets,‭ ‬the tender sequences and lifts,‭ ‬the backdrops.‭ ‬That it appears sweet and delicate does not mean this is an easy ballet to interpret.‭ ‬It takes a very skilled athlete or dancer,‭ ‬to make something look soft,‭ ‬effortless and relaxed.‭

Kronenberg says the role is physically challenging and requires great stamina,‭ ‬but above all,‭ ‬is very emotionally taxing.‭

All the sacrifice and risks seem to have paid off for the company.‭ ‬A poorly conceived set or miscalculation could have turned this production into a real tragedy.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬Edward Villella,‭ ‬the founding artistic director driving this group of‭ ‬50‭ ‬dancers,‭ ‬took careful steps.‭ ‬For Villella,‭ ‬it has never been about being reckless,‭ ‬which can turn into disaster,‭ ‬but being cautious,‭ ‬which could lead to extraordinary.

‭“‬My strategy was to proceed carefully and steadily,‭ ‬evolving rather than over-extending,‭” ‬he writes in the program booklet.‭ “‬Of course there’s never been enough money.‭ ‬Of course there have been countless crises,‭ ‬setbacks,‭ ‬heartaches.‭ ‬But slowly and surely we grew and prevailed.‭”

The production may not feature the sharpest leg extensions or wildest leaps,‭ ‬but still manages to convey great emotion.‭ ‬It makes us notice every single character and care about them.‭

If the flirtatious gypsies don’t get a kiss from the boys,‭ ‬no big deal.‭ ‬But when we see Juliet’s nurse anxiously looking for Romeo to hand him Juliet’s letter,‭ ‬we want to tell her Romeo is right there,‭ ‬in the left corner of the stage,‭ ‬lost in his thoughts of the young beautiful girl he has just met.‭ ‬We can see him.‭ ‬Can’t she‭? ‬Instead,‭ ‬his partners in crime,‭ ‬friends Benvolio and Mercutio,‭ ‬point the way.‭

Carlos Guerra and Jennifer Kronenberg in Romeo and Juliet.
(Photo by Kyle Froman)

One of the sweetest scenes is the morning after their secret nuptials,‭ ‬when the lovers wake up locked in an embrace.‭ ‬This is how the second act opens and it draws an automatic unanimous response from the audience.‭ ‬The next time they lie together it will not be such a happy event.‭ ‬But in that moment,‭ ‬their love,‭ ‬lit by the sunrise,‭ ‬seems very real and pure.‭ ‬A conflicted Romeo,‭ ‬who has been ordered to leave‭ ‬Verona,‭ ‬is then seen struggling with the decision to leave Juliet behind.‭

Everything seems so well-structured that is hard to think of an instant that falls short.‭ ‬I ask Kronenberg instead,‭ ‬for any detail or event that deserves attention and could go unnoticed by the audience.‭ ‬She cannot think of anything but reminds me to always keep an eye on the corners of the stage or the background,‭ ‬where subtle things‭ (‬a wink or a glance‭) ‬usually happen while a major scene develops in the center.‭

I am confident I did not miss anything until Kronenberg mentions the Capulet House’s ball in the first act.‭ ‬Something else is going on with Romeo and Juliet,‭ ‬according to her.

‭“‬They are having a moment,‭” ‬she says.

The Miami City Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet is set for‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Friday,‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬and‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬and‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday.‭ ‬The show then heads to the‭ ‬Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale for performances from April‭ ‬29-May‭ ‬1.‭ ‬For Kravis tickets,‭ ‬call‭ ‬832-7469‭ ‬or visit

Film review: French film lions add weathered charm to 'Potiche'

Catherine Deneuve and Fabrice Luchini in Potiche.

By John Thomason

An alternative title of‭ ‬Potiche could have been‭ ‬Men on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.‭ ‬In this,‭ ‬the latest film from French directorial chameleon François Ozon,‭ ‬the men are the irrational ones‭ – ‬clingy,‭ ‬petulant and generally bewildered‭ – ‬while the film’s female protagonist,‭ ‬played by Catherine Deneuve,‭ ‬is the film’s rational,‭ ‬resolute,‭ ‬forward-thinking,‭ ‬confident and wholly electable moral center.‭

It’s never been surprising that women can be all of these things,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬but in the ostentatiously sexist context of‭ ‬Potiche,‭ ‬set in the industrial‭ ‬1970s,‭ ‬Deneuve’s muscular and intellectual outpacing of her male counterparts causes quite a stir.

Loosely adapted from a‭ ‬1980s French play and staged largely in and around an umbrella factory full of disgruntled workers,‭ ‬Potiche looks at feminism and worker’s rights in an era that saw little of either.‭ ‬Fabrice Luchini plays Robert Pujol,‭ ‬the buffoonish,‭ ‬adulterous,‭ ‬antiunion proprietor of the factory who is all but overthrown by his deceptively airy trophy wife Suzanne‭ (‬Deneuve‭)‬.‭ ‬She gains a majority stake in the company and proceeds to properly compensate its workers and modernize its stock,‭ ‬with some help from her best frenemy:‭ ‬Gerard Depardieu,‭ ‬a Old Guard left-wing politician who’s as big as Michael Moore‭ (‬in more ways that one:‭ ‬You need an awfully wide screen to frame Depardieu’s increasingly morbid girth‭)‬.‭

Depardieu’s Maurice Babin had a fling with Suzanne in another life,‭ ‬and he’s since played the jilted lover as convincingly as the jaded leftist.‭ ‬When it’s revealed that Maurice may in fact be the father of Suzanne’s liberal son Laurent‭ (‬Jérémie Renier‭)‬,‭ ‬it creates more comic schisms in a family already divided by politics.

Potiche is reminiscent thematically‭ – ‬and‭ ‬only thematically‭ – ‬of the recent‭ ‬Made in Dagenham,‭ ‬another historical look at the nexus of women’s rights and labor rights.‭ ‬But unlike the preachy,‭ ‬humorless‭ ‬Dagenham,‭ ‬Potiche is as light and refreshing as a pinafore.

Joyously colorful,‭ ‬just like the loudest Almodovar films,‭ ‬Potiche is a loopy and self-conscious comedy that takes its serious thematic grounding and sends it soaring into a deliberately artificial cinematic landscape full of unusual editing transitions,‭ ‬a cartoony score and hilariously stilted flashbacks.‭ ‬It’s hard to take this lush fantasy too seriously when one of the first shots in the film is of fornicating squirrels,‭ ‬one of many images of nature’s bounty that enlivens Suzanne’s exercise route.

This film has received some of Ozon’s best theatrical distribution in some time,‭ ‬probably playing on the most screens since‭ ‬2003‭’‬s erotic thriller‭ ‬Swimming Pool.‭ ‬It’s practically a wide release compared to his most recent features,‭ ‬Ricky and‭ ‬Hideaway,‭ ‬two tonally polarized takes on pregnancy and its aftershocks.‭ ‬In South Florida,‭ ‬these films only played short runs at the Tower Theatre and the Regal South Beach‭; ‬Potiche,‭ ‬by contrast,‭ ‬sold out the substantial Gusman Center in March’s Miami International Film Festival and packed another house a few weeks later at the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

It’s easy to see why‭; ‬it’s a charming audience movie,‭ ‬not very demanding on those with subtitle phobia,‭ ‬and equally rewarding for mass audiences and urbane cinephiles alike.‭ ‬Deneuve and Depardieu,‭ ‬the last lions of the‭ ’‬70s French cinema mainstream,‭ ‬aren’t getting any younger,‭ ‬but they have a lot of fun satirizing politics,‭ ‬history and themselves under Ozon’s sardonic camera.

POTICHE.‭Distributor:‭ ‬Music Box Films‭; ‬Director:‭ ‬Francois Ozon‭; ‬Cast:‭ ‬Catherine Deneuve,‭ ‬Gérard Depardieu,‭ ‬Fabrice Luchini,‭ ‬Karin Viard,‭ ‬Judith Godrèche,‭ ‬Jérémie Renier‭; ‬in French with English subtitles.‭ ‬Rating:‭ ‬R‭; ‬Opens:‭ ‬Friday‭; ‬Venues:‭ ‬Regal Shadowood‭ ‬16,‭ ‬Regal Delray Beach,‭ ‬Movies of Delray,‭ ‬Movies of Lake Worth,‭ ‬COBB Jupiter‭ ‬18,‭ ‬PGA Cinamax‭ ‬6,‭ ‬Frank‭ ‬Gateway‭ ‬4,‭ ‬Frank Theaters at Sunrise‭ ‬11,‭ ‬Frank‭ ‬Intracoastal‭ ‬8,‭ ‬Regal South Beach‭ ‬18‭ ‬and Coral Gables Art Cinema.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Film review: 'Source Code' almost a masterpiece, save for flawed ending

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code.

By John Thomason

‘Tis the season for romantic science-fiction parables about attractive young men prohibited,‭ ‬through their stories‭’ ‬elaborate conceits,‭ ‬from accessing the brunette beauties who are ready and willing to jump their bones.

In‭ ‬Source Code,‭ ‬which opens wide Friday,‭ ‬Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan are a lot like Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in‭ ‬The Adjustment Bureau,‭ ‬their blooming romance thwarted by godlike powers that be.‭ ‬The major difference,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬is a matter of national security.

Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens,‭ ‬a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up,‭ ‬at the film’s opening,‭ ‬assuming the body and identity of a teacher on a train.‭ ‬Monaghan’s Christina speaks to him as if he were the teacher,‭ ‬whom she has known for some time,‭ ‬and she can’t comprehend his suddenly peculiar behavior.

Eight minutes later,‭ ‬the train explodes and everyone dies.

Colter then wakes up in an enclosed pod but,‭ ‬contrary to his rational assumption,‭ ‬the train test was not a military simulation.‭ ‬The train‭ ‬did blow up that very morning,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬through a wormhole of quantum-physics gobbledygook,‭ ‬the Department of Homeland Security has found a way to transport certain people,‭ ‬mentally,‭ ‬through the time-space continuum and into the body of a person with a similar genetic makeup,‭ ‬who‭ …‬.

Oh,‭ ‬forget it.‭ ‬You won’t believe any of this until you see it,‭ ‬and even then you probably won’t.‭ ‬But it doesn’t matter‭ – ‬Source Code is jolting,‭ ‬high-energy,‭ ‬briskly moving action-sci-fi-mystery-romance hybrid,‭ ‬and if you don’t try to deconstruct the science behind it,‭ ‬you’ll have a blast.‭ ‬All you really need to remember is Colter’s purpose on the train,‭ ‬which makes for a compelling race-against-time thriller a la‭ ‬Speed or‭ ‬Unstoppable:‭ ‬He has exactly eight minutes to ascertain the identity of the bomber,‭ ‬track him off the train at its one stopping point,‭ ‬and deliver the man’s identity to his controllers at Homeland Security so they can find him before he strikes again.

The number of times Colter can relive these eight minutes is virtually unlimited,‭ ‬so he uses each identical session for incremental improvements in his task:‭ ‬taking mental notes of suspicious activity,‭ ‬locating the bomb,‭ ‬studying its detonation method,‭ ‬ruling out certain passengers‭ – ‬and using the knowledge gained in previous eight-minute‭ “‬dates‭” ‬to fall deeper in love with Christina.

So essentially,‭ ‬Source Code is the‭ ‬Groundhog Day of existential counterterrorism,‭ ‬with a recurring fireball of death and destruction instead of Sonny and Cher.‭ ‬An elegant metaphysical construct inside an elegant metaphysical construct,‭ ‬the train and pod that Colter calls home for the movie’s entirety are veritable riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas.

As the equivalent to the business-suit wearing throwbacks in‭ ‬The Adjustment Bureau,‭ ‬these enigmas are presided over by a couple of convincing,‭ ‬real-world-in-real-time human beings whose presence ushers us into the complex environments.‭ ‬Vera Farmiga plays Carol,‭ ‬the Homeland Security agent who doles out instructions to Colter,‭ ‬and a hobbled Jeffrey Wright is Carol’s supervisor,‭ ‬an impatient government huckster hoping this experience with the‭ “‬source code‭” ‬will lead to its mainstream acceptance by the Pentagon.

Also like‭ ‬The Adjustment Bureau,‭ ‬Source Code is a political thriller that isn’t very political,‭ ‬but both have their old-fashioned charms.‭ ‬In‭ ‬Source Code,‭ ‬much of this charm draws from the train setting,‭ ‬which evokes a musty,‭ ‬quaintly Hitchcockian ambience. As I tiptoe around the sacrosanct sin of plot spoilage,‭ ‬suffice it to say that no matter how bad‭ ‬The Adjustment Bureau’s ending was,‭ ‬the climax of‭ ‬Source Code is infinitely worse,‭ ‬belying just about everything we’ve seen before it,‭ ‬including the film’s own strict logic.

Source Code is a wonderful idea that sustains itself in moving and interesting ways for about‭ ‬85‭ ‬of its‭ ‬93‭ ‬minutes.‭ ‬Walk out at this point and you’ll have experienced something very close to a modern action masterpiece.

SOURCE CODE.‭ ‬Director:‭ ‬Duncan Jones‭; ‬Cast:‭ ‬Jake Gyllenhaal,‭ ‬Michelle Monaghan,‭ ‬Vera Farmiga,‭ ‬Jeffrey Wright,‭ ‬Russell Peters,‭ ‬Michael Arden‭; ‬Distributor:‭ ‬Summit Entertainment‭; ‬Rated:‭ ‬PG-13‭; ‬Release date:‭ ‬April‭ ‬1,‭ ‬most commercial theaters

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Music feature: Economic revival? Live-music clubs return to action in PBC

LinkJohn‭ ‬Yurt has reopened The Back Room in Delray Beach.

By Bill Meredith

As financial experts continue to look for indicators as to the status of the economic recession,‭ ‬a trend in Palm Beach County may hint that its grip is on the decline.

It‭’‬s the opening,‭ ‬or reopening,‭ ‬of live music nightclubs,‭ ‬which historically attract people only if those people have money to spend.‭ ‬That‭’‬s the mantra of club owners,‭ ‬who realize that they‭’‬re in a risky business even during prosperous times.

When their cash flow dwindles,‭ ‬audiences get offered less quality,‭ ‬original,‭ ‬creative live bands‭ ‬--‭ ‬and unfortunately,‭ ‬more karaoke,‭ ‬DJs,‭ ‬solo and duo acts with pre-recorded backing tracks,‭ ‬amateur open mike nights,‭ ‬and dance clubs‭ (‬see much of downtown West Palm Beach‭)‬.‭ ‬Or venues close down completely.

Yet the Bamboo Room,‭ ‬located at‭ ‬25‭ ‬S.‭ ‬J St.‭ ‬in Lake Worth‭ (‬561-585-2583,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬reopened last month in its original‭ ‬1999-2008‭ ‬location after specifically taking nearly three years off because of economic factors.

The iconic upstairs venue,‭ ‬historically more of a blues concert venue than nightclub,‭ ‬has featured since-deceased blues man Bo Diddley,‭ ‬plus John Hammond,‭ ‬NRBQ,‭ ‬Elvin Bishop,‭ ‬Hubert Sumlin,‭ ‬Col.‭ ‬Bruce Hampton,‭ ‬and Adrian Belew.‭ ‬Now open three nights a week rather than its original five,‭ ‬the club also offers a touch less blues,‭ ‬and a bit more rock and jam bands,‭ ‬among its proven regional-to-national acts.

The Bamboo Room in Lake Worth is back open after a three-year hiatus.

‭“‬The economic numbers have been improving for some time,‭”‬ says Russell Hibbard,‭ ‬who owns the Bamboo Room‭ ‬with his wife,‭ ‬Karen McKinley.‭ “‬But I‭’‬ve been saying for‭ ‬years that it‭’‬s the area job market that really needs to get better for the‭ ‬club to do well.‭ ‬We‭’‬re hopeful.‭”

Interior changes include a revamped sound system and LED lights,‭ ‬and there are new benches and a second bar on the outdoor patio.‭ ‬Forthcoming cameras will illuminate the stage to high-definition flat-screens on the patio,‭ ‬and a‭ ‬1950s-style diner will serve food downstairs.

Perhaps the biggest immediate difference is that Hibbard,‭ ‬once a mainstay,‭ ‬is now often absent.‭ ‬A half-dozen returning employees run the club,‭ ‬including manager Donny Becker and graphic designer Craig Young,‭ ‬who handle bookings.‭

“I‭’‬m mostly working on cars now,‭”‬ Hibbard says.‭ “‬I was training for the‭ ‬12‭ ‬Hours of Sebring race until we opened in‭ ‬’99.‭ ‬So I‭’‬m getting back in shape to‭ ‬drive several endurance races per year.‭”

If the reopening mob scene from Feb.‭ ‬17-19‭ ‬was any indication,‭ ‬the Bamboo Room should again prove enduring as well.

Two blues and roots music venues are also breathing again in Delray Beach.‭ ‬Elwood‭’‬s Dixie Bar-B-Q,‭ ‬at‭ ‬301‭ ‬N.E.‭ ‬3rd Ave.,‭ ‬Delray Beach‭ (‬561-272-7427‭)‬,‭ ‬which‭ ‬also‭ ‬reopened in February,‭ ‬is still the no-frills juke joint it was from‭ ‬1993-2009.‭ ‬Owner Michael Elwood Gochenour shut down the original site,‭ ‬only three blocks away,‭ ‬by selling it to the owners of the current,‭ ‬neon-lit restaurant Johnnie Brown‭’‬s.

Yet Johnnie Brown‭’‬s now sits on prime downtown real estate just east of the railroad tracks on the heavily‭ ‬traveled East Atlantic Avenue,‭ ‬while the new Elwood‭’‬s is three blocks north on the west side of‭ ‬those tracks.‭ ‬It‭’‬s near the residential Pineapple Grove area at the intersection of Northeast Third Avenue and Northeast Third Street,‭ ‬so the new locale will have to rely more on word of mouth than on passers-by.‭ ‬But the lingering scent of barbecue should waft‭ ‬at least as far as those townhouse windows.

‭“‬This is the old location of The Annex and the Two-Thirds Tavern,‭ ‬which did well here,‭”‬ says general manager Shawn Metz,‭ ‬who was also GM at the original Elwood‭’‬s.‭ “‬I'm optimistic.‭ ‬We'll have some of the old staff back‭; ‬lots of the old signs and furnishings,‭ ‬and most of the bands that played before.‭ ‬So we should get some of the old patrons.‭”

The Back Room,‭ ‬at‭ ‬2222‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.‭ (‬561-988-8929,‭ ‬‭) ‬is in its fourth different Delray Beach site and fifth overall‭ (‬the latest,‭ ‬in Boca Raton,‭ ‬went dark last year‭)‬.‭ ‬In its various locations,‭ ‬the club has hosted national touring blues acts like James Cotton,‭ ‬The Nighthawks,‭ ‬Bobby‭ “‬Blue‭”‬ Bland,‭ ‬John Mayall,‭ ‬Leon Russell,‭ ‬and Dave Mason.

John Yurt has owned the traveling blues revue since‭ ‬1992,‭ ‬and‭ ‬had his grand reopening Friday‭ (‬following his trial run,‭ ‬a maxed-out,‭ ‬sneak-peek reopening party on Feb.‭ ‬19‭)‬.‭ ‬It will be his fourth different location on Atlantic Avenue alone,‭ ‬this one tucked into the west end of the plaza on the southwest corner of Atlantic and Congress avenues.

Pineapple Groove has opened at the old City Limits in Delray Beach.

Also in Delray Beach,‭ ‬the evocatively‭ ‬named,‭ ‬500-capacity Pineapple Groove‭ (‬19‭ ‬N.E.‭ ‬3rd Ave.,‭ ‬561-450-7953,‭) ‬started to feature everything from local to national acoustic singer/songwriters and rock bands to blues and R&B acts a few months ago.‭ ‬The‭ ‬8,000-square-foot venue is the old City Limits,‭ ‬which also closed in‭ ‬2009.‭ ‬But Pineapple Groove features technical upgrades that include high-definition cameras to record live music videos.

‭“‬There's a full high-definition‭ ‬production studio built-in now,‭”‬ says executive producer Randy Grinter.‭ “‬We pretty much went over the top between sound,‭ ‬lighting,‭ ‬projection and recording.‭ ‬We want everything here to be as good as it gets for both audience and performer.‭”

Pineapple Groove‭’‬s owners,‭ ‬brothers Mitch and Richard Clarvit,‭ ‬are both accomplished singer/songwriters.‭ ‬Operations manager Michael Stone,‭ ‬a musician,‭ ‬actor and the brother of actress Sharon Stone,‭ ‬has also helped the venue separate itself from the sports-bar pack.

‭“‬Mitch hosts a popular songwriter showcase,‭”‬ Stone says,‭ “‬where we book featured performers,‭ ‬as opposed to an‭ ‬all-out open mike night.‭ ‬And we‭’‬ve shot a live music video for David Shelley,‭ ‬who's a rising blues artist out of Fort Lauderdale.‭”

The new Delray Beach clubs join established live music providers like Boston‭’‬s On the Beach‭ (‬40‭ ‬S.‭ ‬Ocean Blvd.,‭ ‬561-278-3364,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬The Hurricane‭ (‬640-7‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.,‭ ‬561-278-0282,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Johnnie Brown's‭ (‬301‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.,‭ ‬561-243-9911,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Paddy McGee's‭ (‬307‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.,‭ ‬561-865-7341,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Dada‭ (‬52‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Swinton Ave.,‭ ‬561-330-3232,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬and Kevro‭’‬s Art Bar‭ (‬166‭ ‬SE‭ ‬2nd Ave.,‭ ‬561-278-9675,‭ ‬‭)‬.‭ ‬The result is a live music renaissance on and around the city‭’‬s lengthy main drag,‭ ‬Atlantic Avenue.

Perhaps the strongest cause for economic optimism is fledgling area clubs featuring jazz.‭ ‬Opening such venues in the past had,‭ ‬sadly,‭ ‬only proven to be a sure-fire way to part with a thriving bank account.

Yet Apicus,‭ ‬an elegant Florentine restaurant at‭ ‬210‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Ocean Ave.‭ ‬in Lantana‭ (‬561-533-5998‭)‬,‭ ‬has offered jazz on weekends since late‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬providing a counterpoint to the popular music at the Old Key Lime House‭ (‬300‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Ocean Ave.,‭ ‬561-582-1889,‭ ‬‭)‬.‭ ‬Florida‭’‬s oldest waterfront restaurant,‭ ‬this Key West-style wooden structure is located only a few doors down on the small town‭’‬s popular waterfront thoroughfare.

In Lake Park,‭ ‬the small,‭ ‬atmospheric Fusion Lounge‭ (‬758‭ ‬Northlake Blvd.,‭ ‬561-502-2307,‭ ‬‭) ‬started serving up live jazz and blues on weekends last Linksummer.

Within the expansive north end of Palm Beach County,‭ ‬the Fusion Lounge joins long-standing live music venues like the black box-style variety club the Orange Door‭ (‬798‭ ‬10th St.‭ ‬in Lake Park,‭ ‬561-842-7949,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬the rock club Swampgrass Willy‭’‬s‭ (‬9910‭ ‬Alt.‭ ‬A1A in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬561-625-1555,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Irish pubs Paddy Mac‭’‬s‭ (‬10971‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬561-691-4366,‭ ‬‭) ‬and Rooney‭’‬s Public House‭ (‬1153‭ ‬Town Center Dr.‭ ‬in Jupiter,‭ ‬561-694-6610,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬and Chef John‭’‬s‭ (‬287‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Indiantown Rd.‭ ‬in Jupiter,‭ ‬561-745-8040‭)‬,‭ ‬a gourmet restaurant that owner John Jones prepared into a blues club as well.

Randy Ward at Dolce Vita.‭ (‬Photo by Bill Meredith‭)

In Lake Worth,‭ ‬Dolce Vita‭ (‬609‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-493-3330‭) ‬is a wine bar that‭’‬s featured live jazz on Saturdays since it replaced the former Soma Center a few months ago.

‭“‬I play there in a trio with keyboardist Brad Keller and singer Alex Bach,‭”‬ says West‭ ‬Palm Beach bassist Randy Ward,‭ “‬and we usually rotate a fourth person as a special guest.‭ ‬We've been there for a couple of months,‭ ‬and more and more people seem to be showing up each week.‭”

If the music scene in the northern Lake Park-Palm Beach Gardens-Jupiter tri-city area is growing,‭ ‬and Delray Beach clubs are now burgeoning,‭ ‬then Lake Worth has exploded.‭ ‬Its main downtown stretch,‭ ‬Lake Avenue,‭ ‬covers only a handful of blocks,‭ ‬making it comparable in scope to Lantana's quaint Ocean Avenue.‭ ‬Yet Dolce Vita and the Bamboo Room are now part of a dozen live music clubs in the‭ ‬18-square-block downtown area surrounding it.

‬Others are Little Munich‭ (‬806‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-932-0050,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Igot‭’‬s Martiki Bar‭ (‬702‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-582-4468‭)‬,‭ ‬Bizaare Avenue Cafe‭ (‬921‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-588-4488,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Havana Hideout‭ (‬509‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-585-8444,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬Brogues Irish Pub‭ (‬621‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-585-1885,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬the Lake Worth Rum Shack‭ (‬606‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-588-2929,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬South Shores Tavern‭ (‬502‭ ‬Lucerne Ave.,‭ ‬561-547-7656,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬The Cottage‭ (‬522‭ ‬Lucerne Ave.,‭ ‬561-586-0080‭)‬,‭ ‬Propaganda‭ (‬6‭ ‬S.‭ ‬J St.,‭ ‬561-547-7273,‭ ‬‭)‬,‭ ‬and Mother Earth Coffee‭ (‬410‭ ‬2nd Ave.‭ ‬N.,‭ ‬561-460-8647,‭ ‬‭)‬.

The Cultural Plaza Stage,‭ ‬located on M Street between Lake and Lucerne avenues,‭ ‬and the Bryant Park band shell,‭ ‬on Lake Avenue at the Intracoastal Waterway,‭ ‬are two other popular destinations for frequent special and multi-band events.

Smatterings of venues in Riviera Beach,‭ ‬West Palm Beach,‭ ‬Boynton Beach and Boca Raton,‭ ‬although quite spread out,‭ ‬also feature live music in-between these busy musical areas.‭ ‬But Lake Worth‭’‬s new openings over the past three years,‭ ‬and particularly the‭ ‬Bamboo Room reopening in February,‭ ‬have made its downtown area particularly energetic,‭ ‬vibrant and crowded.‭

Nashville may have the nickname of‭ ‬“Music City‭”‬ cornered,‭ ‬but this small‭ “‬Music Town‭”‬ now looms‭ ‬large within what‭’‬s once again the growing live music scene of eastern Palm Beach County.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Opera review: Staging, weak Cavaradossi mar second cast of PBO's 'Tosca'

Tiffany Abban.

By Rex Hearn

There are times when the stronger regional‭ ‬opera‭ ‬companies mount Giacomo‭ ‬Puccini‭’‬s‭ ‬Tosca to exploit every emotion: love,‭ ‬hate,‭ ‬seduction,‭ ‬torture and betrayal.‭ ‬Each is accented and the audiences go home satisfied.‭

This was not one of them.

Palm Beach‭ ‬Opera‭’‬s version,‭ ‬directed by Massimo Gasparon,‭ ‬had none of the blood lust‭ ‬one associates with this opera:‭ ‬Tosca‭’‬s knife,‭ ‬a letter opener,‭ ‬had no blood on it when she withdrew it from Baron Scarpia.‭ ‬The production reeked‭ ‬of European refinement,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the version I saw‭ ‬Saturday night was missing the chills and thrills and the energy that‭ ‬Puccini‭’‬s music infuses in it.

Opera diva Tosca is in love with the painter‭ ‬Cavaradossi.‭ ‬He‭’‬s helped a political prisoner escape from Castel Sant‭’‬Angelo,‭ ‬and faces the firing‭ ‬squad of Baron Scarpia,‭ ‬Rome‭’‬s chief of police.‭ ‬Hoping to free her lover,‭ ‬Tosca,‭ ‬almost succumbs to the wiles of Scarpia but obtains a handwritten passage to freedom from him before stabbing him to death.

But‭ ‬Scarpia has the last word.‭ ‬Instead of dummy bullets,‭ ‬which he and Tosca agreed to,‭ ‬Cavaradossi is plugged by live shells and dies.‭ ‬To escape‭ ‬Scarpia‭’‬s pursuers,‭ ‬Tosca jumps to her death from the castle wall.

Stage director Gasparon had some original touches I hadn‭’‬t seen before.‭ ‬In Act I,‭ ‬in the church of Sant‭’‬Andrea della Valle,‭ ‬he has the choirboys circle the sacristan,‭ ‬reaching into his apron for‭ ‬“goodies‭”‬ he keeps‭ ‬there. A deft touch.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬in the procession of church dignitaries before the service begins,‭ ‬a tall,‭ ‬regal,‭ ‬Madonna-like woman,‭ ‬dressed in white and blue, kneels opposite Scarpia.‭ ‬Was it his wife‭? ‬Or a‭ ‬depiction of the Blessed Mother‭?‬ Whatever she represented,‭ ‬it was quite effective.

In Act II,‭ ‬the director has Tosca placing the candelabra from his desk at the foot of the dead Scarpia,‭ ‬instead of arranging a cross on his chest,‭ ‬which ‭ ‬is usual.‭ ‬In Act III,‭ ‬when Cavaradossi‭ ‬asks for writing paper,‭ ‬he must fall to the ground to write his farewell to Tosca.‭ ‬Normally,‭ ‬a small table is provided.‭ ‬This new direction distracted greatly from the tenor‭’‬s last aria,‭ ‬E lucevan le stelle.

Making her debut in the role of Floria Tosca was soprano Tiffany Abban.‭ ‬At times in her recitatives,‭ ‬Abban tends to lower her head onto her chest and her sound is muffled,‭ ‬making her diction unclear.‭ ‬When she looks up the voice is expanded and its purity of tone is released through the house.

Her‭ ‬Vissi d‭’‬arte in Act II won rapturous applause,‭ ‬and indeed it was well-sung.‭ ‬She is a young dramatic soprano who‭ ‬will develop nicely over time.‭ ‬Her acting was accomplished too,‭ ‬especially in the moments after Scarpia‭’‬s death as she stealthily crept away.‭

Mario Cavaradossi,‭ ‬sung by tenor Warren Mok,‭ ‬was a disappointment.‭ ‬His voice lacks support,‭ ‬and so he pushed it to the limit.‭ ‬Consequently,‭ ‬a distinct‭ ‬“hard‭”‬ sound was produced,‭ ‬which was not very attractive to hear.‭ ‬After his early first aria,‭ ‬Recondita armonia,‭ ‬which wasn‭’‬t very good,‭ ‬it was all downhill for Mok.‭ ‬Even his‭ ‬acting was stiff and unconvincing.

Baron Scarpia was beautifully sung and acted by baritone Stephen Powell.‭ ‬Again,‭ ‬I must fall back on the word‭ ‬“refined,‭”‬ for his was a nuanced interpretation of the role of Rome‭’‬s dastardly police chief,‭ ‬guaranteed not to scare the‭ ‬11-year-old sitting two rows behind me.

Matthew Burns was just fine as the revolutionary escapee,‭ ‬Angelotti.‭ ‬His rich bass stood out ‭ ‬in Act I,‭ ‬but ‭ ‬instead of seeming like a man on the run,‭ ‬the director had him casually singing his lines‭ ‬as if there would be no trouble in slipping through Scarpia's tightly knit web.

Matteo Peirone,‭ ‬the sacristan,‭ ‬was superb.‭ ‬His lovely voice and cheeky interpretation won many hearts.‭ ‬Evanivaldo Correa was good as Spoletta,‭ ‬Baron Scarpia‭’‬s right-hand man.‭ ‬He gave‭ ‬the impression he could do the baron‭’‬s job in a trice.‭ ‬Kenneth Stavert sang Sciarrone,‭ ‬and Greta Ball‭’‬s shepherd boy was excellent,‭ ‬very boyish-sounding.‭ ‬The last three singers named are all in the Young Artists program at Palm Beach Opera.

The chorus sounded great,‭ ‬and were well-trained by Greg Ritchey.‭ ‬The orchestra also sounded particularly good under the baton of artistic director Bruno‭ ‬Aprea.‭ ‬They made lovely music all night long.

At times they were so good,‭ ‬it felt better listening to their playing than watching this stage version of‭ ‬Puccini’s masterpiece.‭

The Palm Beach‭ ‬Opera‭’‬s Grand Finals Vocal Competition is set for‭ ‬3‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬10,‭ ‬at‭ ‬the‭ ‬Kravis Center.‭ ‬Next year marks the‭ ‬50th season of the company.‭ ‬Scheduled operas are Puccini‭’‬s Madama Butterfly,‭ ‬Gounod‭’‬s Romeo et Juliette,‭ ‬and Donizetti‭’‬s Lucia di Lammermoor.‭ ‬Also scheduled are two‭ ‬gala concerts of arias and ensembles to celebrate the company‭’‬s anniversary.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬833-7888‭ ‬for more‭ ‬information.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Music review: Verdi 'Requiem' marks important moment for Master Chorale, Lynn

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

By Greg Stepanich

Time was,‭ ‬and not all that long ago,‭ ‬that the only way South Florida could hear the Verdi Requiem in concert was to wait for the Florida Philharmonic to schedule it or hope that a big touring ensemble would put it on.

This year,‭ ‬there have been two major local performances of this‭ ‬1874‭ ‬masterwork:‭ ‬Once in January at a concert by the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra,‭ ‬with high-profile soloists including Dolora Zajick,‭ ‬and this week in four concerts by the Master Chorale of South Florida,‭ ‬accompanied by the Lynn Philharmonia.

You wouldn‭’‬t expect a student group such as the Lynn conservatory orchestra to be quite as polished as the opera professionals,‭ ‬and by extension,‭ ‬for the performance as a whole to be on that level.‭ ‬And while indeed‭ ‬it wasn‭’‬t up to quite the same caliber,‭ ‬Saturday‭’‬s performance by the Master Chorale was exciting,‭ ‬engrossing,‭ ‬and completely faithful to Verdi‭’‬s compositional aesthetic.‭

It lacked certain subtleties of interpretation,‭ ‬but in every other important respect this was a strong reading of the‭ ‬Requiem,‭ ‬and its successful performance over the course of the four concerts marks a major advance for South Florida classical music-making.

To begin with,‭ ‬there was the orchestra‭ ‬itself,‭ ‬which was excellent‭ (‬and augmented by adult professionals‭)‬.‭ ‬There were two or three noticeable flubs in precisely the places where most‭ ‬orchestras‭ ‬have difficulty:‭ ‬The offstage trumpet passage‭ ‬in the‭ ‬Tuba mirum,‭ ‬which quickly righted itself,‭ ‬and the massed cello opening of the‭ ‬Offertorium,‭ ‬which‭ ‬had‭ ‬the usual intonation problems on the climb up.‭ ‬But here,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬the cellists rapidly unified things when it came time for the main theme.‭ ‬

By and large,‭ ‬this was an orchestra with good string ensemble,‭ ‬strong solo work from winds and brass,‭ ‬and‭ ‬emphatic percussion.‭ ‬It was an orchestra that clearly was familiar with the music,‭ ‬and was able to play with impressive dynamic range,‭ ‬from the hushed tremolandi that introduce the‭ ‬Hostias et preces tibi to the mighty whirlwind of the‭ ‬Dies irae.

Conductor Albert-George Schram led the combined forces of chorale and orchestra with precision and thorough professionalism.‭ ‬Saturday night,‭ ‬sudden shifts in dynamics were right on the money,‭ ‬as were virtually all the entrances and endings,‭ ‬including such tricky moments as the‭ ‬delicate switch to A major from A minor in the opening Requiem movement.

His tempos were largely on the swift side,‭ ‬and in some cases,‭ ‬a little too fast for comfort,‭ ‬particularly in the‭ ‬Confutatis section of the Sequence,‭ ‬when his insistence on driving the central three-note motif forward‭ ‬left his soloist too little time to breathe or give the aria enough impact.‭ ‬The‭ ‬Sanctus,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬while ably handled by the chorus,‭ ‬could have been slightly slower,‭ ‬and there were other,‭ ‬smaller moments when Schram might have‭ ‬been better served by a touch more deliberation.‭

And yet overall,‭ ‬he led the piece masterfully:‭ ‬His forces knew exactly what he wanted and when to give it to him,‭ ‬and they followed him admirably.‭

The soloists also did‭ ‬well,‭ ‬in varying degrees.‭ ‬Soprano Amanda Hall,‭ ‬a master‭’‬s student at Yale,‭ ‬had the freshest voice of the four,‭ ‬with a nice,‭ ‬full sound in her upper reaches and a warm,‭ ‬communicative approach‭ (‬particularly in the‭ ‬Recordare and the closing‭ ‬Libera me‭)‬.‭ ‬Some of her vibrato was rather wide,‭ ‬which was also true of mezzo Christin-Marie Hill.

Hill,‭ ‬a repeat Tanglewood fellow,‭ ‬has an unusual bronze quality‭ ‬to her voice‭ ‬that at its best is‭ ‬quite‭ ‬compelling‭ (‬Quid sum miser‭?)‬ and in its shakier moments‭ ‬Saturday night‭ ‬inclined to shrillness.‭ ‬She also snapped off the ends of her‭ ‬initial‭ ‬phrases in the‭ ‬Liber scriptus,‭ ‬no doubt in‭ ‬strict‭ ‬fidelity to the score,‭ ‬but the effect was‭ ‬odd,‭ ‬as though she had been cut off in mid-sentence.‭

Tenor Scott Ramsay demonstrated a very pleasant,‭ ‬lightly colored voice that had muscle when it needed it,‭ ‬such as in the high B-flat that closes the‭ ‬Ingemisco.‭ ‬He chose a very soft voice for the‭ ‬Hostias,‭ ‬but while that was effective for the text,‭ ‬a little more power would have brought out the tenoristic thrill of the melody better.

Bass Wayne Shepperd has a friendly,‭ ‬baritonal voice that blended well with the other soloists but was somewhat less effective on its own.‭ ‬Without sepulchral tones,‭ ‬it‭’‬s hard to make the big pauses Schram called for in the‭ ‬Mors stupebit work all that well,‭ ‬and as mentioned before,‭ ‬the too-fast pace of the‭ ‬Confutatis‭ ‬did Shepperd no favors.‭

For its part,‭ ‬the Master Chorale‭ (‬the former Florida Philharmonic chorus‭) ‬showed the benefits of careful drill in the way the group sang the exact rhythm on the words‭ ‬Qui salvando salvas gratis,‭ ‬as well as the closing triplet on the words‭ ‬Libera me.‭ ‬Its sound was full and hefty,‭ ‬and the balances between men and women were good.

It was also gratifying to hear the chorus sing a piece that gave it so much to do.‭ ‬Many of the big works the chorale has done in recent years have been much bigger workouts for soloists than the chorus,‭ ‬and it‭’‬s been hard to gauge exactly how well the group sings.‭ ‬The Verdi Requiem,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬showed that it‭’‬s capable of handling difficult fugal writing such as the‭ ‬Te decet hymnus and‭ ‬Sanctus,‭ ‬and that it is able to offer a blemish-free unison line such as in the‭ ‬Agnus Dei.

‭ ‬Saturday‭’‬s concert was a crucial one for music development.‭ ‬The Lynn Philharmonia,‭ ‬which just‭ ‬20‭ ‬years ago was a string orchestra‭ ‬at the Harid Conservatory,‭ ‬is a skilled,‭ ‬agile assemblage that began this year tackling the Mahler Fifth and next year will take on John Corigliano‭’‬s First Symphony,‭ ‬a most demanding piece.‭ ‬True,‭ ‬it got some middle-aged help in the ranks for the Requiem,‭ ‬and its earlier concerts this season have been inconsistent,‭ ‬particularly in the brass sections.

But if you care about classical music in Palm Beach County,‭ ‬you‭’‬ll want to consider attending the last performance of the Requiem this afternoon at the Wold Center for the Performing Arts on the Lynn campus.‭ ‬Even five years ago,‭ ‬a performance of this work by student and community forces here would have been hard to imagine‭ ‬--‭ ‬Brahms or Faure,‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬but‭ ‬Verdi,‭ ‬no.

Now,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬ambition for the arts here has been joined by serious accomplishment,‭ ‬and audience members today can see a chorale that has managed to remain standing for almost a decade despite the loss of the orchestra that originated it,‭ ‬and‭ ‬a symphonic ensemble‭ ‬that increasingly is providing fine training for its student members,‭ ‬as well as more satisfying concerts for its auditors.‭

This Verdi Requiem series is nothing short of a milestone,‭ ‬whatever its faults,‭ ‬and I feel certain the Lynn and Master Chorale communities‭ ‬will look back on these performances a few years hence and see that they marked the beginning of a newer,‭ ‬bigger era.‭

The Verdi Requiem will be performed at‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬today at the Wold Center on the Lynn University campus.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$35-$50.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬237-9000‭ ‬for more information.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Theater roundup: Two by Tracy Letts

The cast of August:‭ ‬Osage County,‭ ‬at Actors‭’ ‬Playhouse.

By Hap Erstein

In order to maximize the chances of being produced in these precarious economic times,‭ ‬most writers now limit themselves in their plays‭’ ‬cast size and physical requirements.‭

But every now and again comes an‭ ‬Angels in America or a‭ ‬Coast of Utopia,‭ ‬from playwrights who dare to think on a grand scale,‭ ‬resulting in works resulting in peak experiences for their audiences.

Just such a play is Tracy Letts‭’ ‬August:‭ ‬Osage County,‭ ‬a three-and-a-half hour epic whirlwind,‭ ‬requiring a cast of‭ ‬13,‭ ‬a major theatrical meal amid a theatrical landscape of so much snack food.‭ ‬In it,‭ ‬Letts mines the familiar territory of the dysfunctional family,‭ ‬but he does so with such fury and force that he wipes away our memories of other dramatic sagas on the subject.

Still,‭ ‬a script of this magnitude is not an easy matter to produce,‭ ‬let alone for a company like Actors‭’ ‬Playhouse of Coral Gables,‭ ‬whose strength is musical theater.‭ ‬Yet Letts‭’ ‬play has obviously gotten the creative juices of director David Arisco flowing and the material has attracted some of the region’s finest acting talent.‭ ‬The result is a production that is likely to be a landmark of South Florida theater for years to come.

You could call‭ ‬August:‭ ‬Osage County a tragedy,‭ ‬except it is happening to a family other than your own and watching the verbally abusive meltdown is so much fun.

It all takes place in the sprawling three-story home of the Weston clan‭ (‬artfully designed by Sean McClelland‭)‬,‭ ‬located in a small Oklahoma town near Tulsa.‭ ‬The family is headed,‭ ‬at least briefly,‭ ‬by Beverly Weston,‭ ‬an alcohol-fueled professor and poet,‭ ‬who we hear describing his marital woes to a prospective housekeeper.‭ ‬He hires her and walks away,‭ ‬never to be seen alive again,‭ ‬but was Beverly’s death a drunken accident,‭ ‬foul play or suicide‭?

The answer is of little concern to his coarse,‭ ‬pill-popping wife Violet who convenes the family‭ ‬--‭ ‬three grown daughters and their somewhat significant others‭ ‬--‭ ‬to wait for word of Beverly’s situation and then to attend his funeral.

At they wait,‭ ‬the impromptu family reunion becomes a clawing match,‭ ‬with secrets exposed at regular intervals and the weak pounded into submission by the stronger.

Annette Miller,‭ ‬last seen at Actors Playhouse as the wily,‭ ‬outspoken title character in‭ ‬Martha Mitchell Calling,‭ ‬dominates the evening as sharp-tongued Violet,‭ ‬staggering through life in a drug-induced fog,‭ ‬just sober enough to lash out at whoever is in her path.‭ ‬That is usually her three daughters,‭ ‬the eldest of whom,‭ ‬Barbara‭ (‬a steely Laura Turnbull‭)‬,‭ ‬pulls an Alexander Haig and declares herself in charge of the calamitous situation.‭

The middle daughter,‭ ‬Ivy‭ (‬Kathryn Lee Johnson‭)‬,‭ ‬has been her parents‭’ ‬caregiver,‭ ‬but wildly underappreciated,‭ ‬and destined to be pushed aside.‭ ‬Youngest daughter Karen‭ (‬Amy McKenna‭) ‬has unwisely gotten engaged to a shady Miami businessman‭ (‬Stephen G.‭ ‬Anthony‭)‬,‭ ‬whose roving eye locks onto Barbara’s teenage daughter Jean‭ (‬a crafty Jackie Rivera‭)‬.

They are at the core of‭ ‬August:‭ ‬Osage County,‭ ‬but even the secondary characters,‭ ‬like Violet’s abrasive sister‭ (‬Barbara Bradshaw‭)‬,‭ ‬her meek husband‭ (‬Peter Haig‭) ‬and their embarrassment of a son‭ (‬Erik Fabregat‭) ‬have their stinging moments.

The centerpiece of the play is a family dinner that begins civilly,‭ ‬but soon escalates into general combat.‭ ‬One would think there was nothing left to reveal by the third act,‭ ‬but Letts saves his most devastating revelations for the evening’s final third.

Arisco lets the play breathe a bit,‭ ‬but knows how to turn on the theatrics for maximum effect.‭ ‬Only the most honest of theatergoers will see themselves among these irredeemable souls,‭ ‬but they will probably recognize some of their family members.

AUGUST:‭ ‬OSAGE COUNTY,‭ ‬Actors‭’ ‬Playhouse,‭ ‬280‭ ‬Miracle Mile,‭ ‬Coral Gables.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬3.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$42-$50.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(305‭) ‬444-9293.

‭ * * *

Gordon McConnell,‭ ‬Marckenson Charles,‭
‬Avi Hoffman and Paul Homza in Superior Donuts.
‭(‬Photo by George Schiavone‭)

By a quirk of scheduling,‭ ‬across town in Coral Gables,‭ ‬Letts‭’ ‬follow-up to‭ ‬August:‭ ‬Osage County,‭ ‬the more benign,‭ ‬but worthy‭ ‬Superior Donuts is playing at GableStage.‭ ‬It is a consciously conventional play,‭ ‬even without comparing it to Letts‭’ ‬Pulitzer Prize winner,‭ ‬and surprisingly upbeat when judged against‭ ‬Killer Joe or‭ ‬Bug,‭ ‬two other scripts by Letts that GableStage has produced.

Not that‭ ‬Superior Donuts is without conflict or violence,‭ ‬but unlike his other works,‭ ‬you can sense the playwright letting the audience off the hook with a concluding suggestion of hope that his other three plays certainly do not have.

The action all takes place inside a North Side Chicago donut shop,‭ ‬a rundown neighborhood coffee-and-cruller joint that‭ ‬60-ish Arthur Przybyszewski‭ ‬--‭ ‬the‭ “‬P‭” ‬is silent‭ ‬--‭ ‬long ago inherited from his father.‭ ‬But even though the area has gone to seed,‭ ‬Starbucks has just opened across the street and it looks like Arthur’s shop is on its last legs.‭

Prior to the play’s start,‭ ‬someone has broken in and defaced the shop’s interior,‭ ‬but Arthur remains unfazed,‭ ‬or perhaps he gave up on any grand aspirations for the place long ago.

If so,‭ ‬he has his hollow complacency shaken by the arrival of Franco Wicks,‭ ‬a‭ ‬21-year-old street-smart black dude,‭ ‬who talks his way into a job and into Arthur’s heart.‭ ‬Full of bravado and non-stop gab,‭ ‬he totes with him a messy manuscript of what he calls his‭ “‬Great American Novel,‭” ‬but he also carries the burden of‭ ‬$16,000‭ ‬in gambling debts.‭

At its best,‭ ‬Superior Donuts draws the growth of the unlikely friendship of Arthur and Franco,‭ ‬as they trade wisecracks and world views.‭ ‬Franco is brought vividly to life by a very promising young African-American actor,‭ ‬Marckenson Charles,‭ ‬whose swagger and verbal confidence are both ingratiating and persuasive.‭ ‬He plays off of the naturally ebullient Avi Hoffman,‭ ‬here underplaying as a man whose life went on hold when he fled to Canada during the Vietnam War,‭ ‬evading the draft.‭

At its worst,‭ ‬Franco is confronted by his tough-talking bookie‭ (‬Gordon McConnell‭)‬,‭ ‬a guy of indeterminate nationality,‭ ‬who threatens him over his overdue loan.‭ ‬Unlike the rest of the play,‭ ‬which breathes with such authenticity,‭ ‬this subplot feels like a bad rewrite of‭ ‬I’m Not Rappaport‭ ‬--‭ ‬one of the final productions of Hoffman’s defunct New Vista Theatre Company‭ ‬--‭ ‬even more so when Arthur ultimately decides to risk his life by standing up to the bookie in a brawl.

The resolution of the standoff is a credibility-stretcher.‭ ‬While Letts seems to be echoing the pipe dreams of Eugene O’Neill’s‭ ‬The Iceman Cometh,‭ ‬he chooses to avoid the despair of that play’s conclusion.

As a result,‭ ‬Superior Donuts is a lot more upbeat than most of GableStage’s fare,‭ ‬though director Joe Adler does what he can to cover the proceedings with a layer of grit.‭ ‬In addition to Hoffman and Charles,‭ ‬he fills the stage with an on-target ensemble that includes John Archie and Patti Gardner as two of the Second City’s finest,‭ ‬Sally Bondi as a wry bag lady and particularly Chaz Mena as a Russian entrepreneur eager to acquire Arthur’s shop.

If you only have time to see one Letts play,‭ ‬you must opt for‭ ‬August:‭ ‬Osage County.‭ ‬But if you can also see‭ ‬Superior Donuts,‭ ‬you can sense the range of this writer who seems likely to be spinning tales onstage for a long time to come.

SUPERIOR DONUTS,‭ ‬GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel,‭ ‬1200‭ ‬Anastasia Ave.,‭ ‬Coral Gables.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬10.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$37.50-$45.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(305‭) ‬445-1119.

Opera review: Soprano Taigi shines in PB Opera's 'Tosca'

Chiara Taigi and Riccardo Massi in Tosca.

By Greg Stepanich

Good singing can get an opera audience past uninspired acting,‭ ‬but when it comes to the heroine of Giacomo Puccini‭’‬s‭ ‬Tosca,‭ ‬it‭’‬s best to have someone who can do both well.

‭‬And on Friday night,‭ ‬Palm Beach Opera did.

In the Italian soprano Chiara Taigi,‭ ‬who opened its current run of Puccini‭’‬s‭ “‬shabby little shocker‭”‬ from‭ ‬1900,‭ ‬Palm Beach Opera had an actress whose Floria‭ ‬Tosca was believable and sympathetic,‭ ‬passionate and action-dominating,‭ ‬and a singer whose mature,‭ ‬dark soprano had power,‭ ‬range and stamina.

Taigi was the focus of a very traditional production‭ (‬set,‭ ‬as it‭’‬s supposed to be,‭ ‬in the Rome of‭ ‬1800‭) ‬that used the company‭’‬s modest resources shrewdly,‭ ‬and that absorbed its audience from the‭ ‬first moments and held them fast until the end.‭ ‬One excellent reason for that was Taigi‭’‬s fine performance in Act II,‭ ‬with a‭ ‬Vissi d‭’‬arte of high emotion and‭ ‬musicality,‭ ‬and in which her nervous jitters after stabbing Scarpia were nicely appropriate‭ (‬if the subsequent throwing around of papers was a little overdone‭)‬.

But she was an excellent Tosca throughout,‭ ‬making the most of a star vehicle whose play parent increased the luster of‭ ‬none other than Sarah Bernhardt.‭ ‬Taigi‭’‬s acting and musical chops were strong enough even to overcome moments of vocal shrillness on top and some cracking in the lower reaches‭; ‬these imperfections actually made her performance that much more credible and enjoyable.

As Cavaradossi,‭ ‬tenor Riccardo Massi did a respectable job,‭ ‬and he has a large,‭ ‬warm voice that at its best is quite pleasant to listen to.‭ ‬He sounded somewhat strained in the top of his range,‭ ‬but in a way that suggested an engine not firing on all cylinders rather than one pushed to the breaking point.

His‭ ‬Recondita armonia and‭ ‬E lucevan le stelle were carefully and capably sung,‭ ‬but they lacked a strong sense of passion,‭ ‬and‭ ‬E lucevan‭ ‬in particular‭ ‬didn‭’‬t have the feeling of desperation and extravagant emotion it needs to be a show-stopper.

Claudio Sgura,‭ ‬as Scarpia,‭ ‬has a good,‭ ‬solid baritone voice,‭ ‬and he was effective enough in the second act to earn plenty of hearty boos at the curtain call.‭ ‬He was less impressive in the closing of the first act,‭ ‬when he needs to become the second center of the melodrama,‭ ‬especially in the great‭ ‬Te Deum scene that ends‭ ‬it.‭

Partly because of Massimo Gasparon‭’‬s staging,‭ ‬which pushed him over to the side to make room for the church procession,‭ ‬Sgura,‭ ‬who sounded underpowered,‭ ‬wasn‭’‬t able to give us the skin-crawling sense of a man whose lusts for flesh and violence are pushing him over the edge,‭ ‬and who knows it.‭

The first act‭’‬s best work came from a minor role,‭ ‬that of the sacristan,‭ ‬as sung by‭ ‬the‭ ‬Italian baritone and character specialist‭ ‬Matteo Peirone.‭ ‬Seen here last month as a very fine Don Alfonso in Mozart‭’‬s‭ ‬Cosi fan Tutte,‭ ‬Peirone‭ ‬(who probably makes an excellent Gianni Schicchi‭) ‬was equally good‭ ‬this time around‭ ‬as the fussy caretaker,‭ ‬singing with strength‭ ‬and offering a winning portrayal of a flustered,‭ ‬comic Everyman.‭

Also good in a minor role was bass Matthew‭ ‬Burns as Angelotti.‭ ‬He has a deep voice of real quality,‭ ‬and it‭’‬s regrettable that Puccini‭’‬s mastery of the theater led him to cut out so much backstory.‭ ‬A few more comradely minutes of Angelotti would have given us more of Burns‭’‬ singing to listen to.

Three of the company‭’‬s Young Artists‭ ‬– Evanivaldo Correa as Spoletta,‭ ‬Kenneth Stavert as Sciarrone,‭ ‬and Greta Ball as the shepherd‭ ‬– sang well,‭ ‬with Correa‭’‬s sharp-edged tenor making a good vocal contrast in his colloquies with Sgura.‭ ‬Good work was also to be had from the chorus in the‭ ‬Te Deum and the offstage cantata in Act II.

Conductor Bruno Aprea,‭ ‬like Taigi a native of Rome,‭ ‬led a brisk,‭ ‬powerful reading of this rich score,‭ ‬building steadily and surely to the conclusion of Act I,‭ ‬and giving the big Act II theme associated with the knife that Tosca will use to kill Scarpia a ferocious reprise after the black deed is done,‭ ‬casting a real sense of momentousness over the scene on stage.‭ ‬Except for intonation problems in the cello quartet during Act III,‭ ‬the orchestra played wonderfully,‭ ‬and indeed its performance was one of the high points of Friday evening.

Director Gasparon,‭ ‬who made good use of the Sarasota Opera set in constructing effective tableaux,‭ ‬sacrificed some of the drama‭’‬s effectiveness in Act III‭ ‬with a staging choice that had Cavaradossi singing the sweetness of Tosca‭’‬s hands on the other side of the stage from her.‭ ‬Much of their action together saw them singing while apart,‭ ‬which possibly was meant to focus on each character‭’‬s individual anguish,‭ ‬but which didn‭’‬t make much sense dramatically,‭ ‬especially after the heat of Act II.

His staging of the shepherd‭’‬s song in that act,‭ ‬which had Ball sitting on a parapet serenading soldiers,‭ ‬didn‭’‬t work well,‭ ‬either,‭ ‬since the song just adds a moment of Roman-dawn coloring,‭ ‬and needs to be a drive-by song,‭ ‬not a spotlight moment.‭

Tosca will be repeated tonight at the Kravis Center beginning at‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Soprano Tiffany Abban stars as Tosca,‭ ‬with Warren Mok as Cavaradossi and Stephen Powell as Scarpia.‭ ‬Chiara Taigi returns for the‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday performance,‭ ‬and Abban is back for the‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday show.‭ ‬Tickets range from‭ ‬$23-$175.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬833-7888‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

Friday, March 25, 2011

Film review: 'Kaboom' fizzles in tepid bath of juvenilia

Juno Temple and Thomas Dekker in Kaboom.

By John Thomason

Gregg Araki puts the‭ “‬terrible‭” ‬in‭ ‬enfant terrible.

For more than‭ ‬20‭ ‬years,‭ ‬the filmmaker has staked his dubious claim as the foremost‭ ‬auteur of vacuous Gen-X movies about sexually experimental hipsters.‭ ‬With one notable exception‭ – ‬the disturbing and deeply moving‭ ‬Mysterious Skin,‭ ‬which boasted the best performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career‭ ‬--‭ ‬his movies are stultifying glimpses into a void of hedonism and eye-rolling self-referentiality,‭ ‬as artistically malignant as they are intellectually deflated.

Araki’s latest,‭ ‬Kaboom,‭ ‬is essentially a science-fiction movie,‭ ‬albeit a subversive one that deserves some credit for wandering way off the genre’s reservation.‭ ‬Unfortunately,‭ ‬the places it wanders off to resemble the hollow vacuum of juvenilia that is home to just about every other Araki film.

The film showcases the‭ ‬52-year-old writer-director at his infantile worst.‭ ‬His fans may hold him in a higher regard than such low-hanging directorial fruit as Kevin Smith and Dennis Dugan,‭ ‬but his movies are just puerile.‭ ‬How’s this for a priceless line of Araki dialogue,‭ ‬from one of his sexually liberated female characters:‭ “‬If I come anymore tonight,‭ ‬my cooch is gonna break off.‭”

When he isn’t trying to shock us with his characters‭’ ‬sexual frankness,‭ ‬Araki bombards us with pop-culture snark and litmus-test references to his favorite music and movies,‭ ‬from New Order to Luis Buñuel’s‭ ‬Un Chien Andalou.‭ “‬Are you worried‭?” ‬asks protagonist Smith‭ (‬Thomas Dekker‭) ‬to his best friend Stella‭ (‬Haley Bennett‭) ‬following some strange occurrences on the college campus they share.‭ “‬Does Mel Gibson hate Jews‭?” ‬she replies,‭ ‬without missing a beat.

Araki’s cinematic fantasylands are populated exclusively by cultured,‭ ‬quick-witted horndogs just like these two contrived specimens,‭ ‬their lines dripping with their screenwriter’s self-satisfaction.‭ ‬Others include Juno Temple as a randy British tart with an‭ ’‬80s coif and a library of Buzzcocks references,‭ ‬James Duval as a hippie prophet of doom and Chris Zylka as a perpetually shirtless surfer-hunk named Thor who tries to master the art of self-fellatio.

A realistic conversation between these creatures is about as rare as an intriguing shot.‭ ‬For Araki,‭ ‬the cinematography is all about a motley,‭ ‬eye-catching set design and a multicolored‭ ‬mise-en-scène that tries,‭ ‬unsuccessfully,‭ ‬to mask the director’s pedestrian eye.

Kaboom’s ramshackle plot follows around Smith and Stella as they attempt to fornicate their way through one mysterious phenomenon after another,‭ ‬from the real-life manifestations of recurring dreams to strangers in animal masks slaying women in the dead of night to a devious new mate who harbor powers of supernatural possession and witchcraft.‭ ‬It is at once a near-pornographic,‭ ‬bisexual college comedy,‭ ‬a slasher film and a paranoid political thriller,‭ ‬all mashed together into a scuzzy ball and spat onto the screen.‭ ‬Some of it is arousing,‭ ‬some of it mildly interesting,‭ ‬but most of the time,‭ ‬you’ll just feel icky and impatient.

By the time the picture ends,‭ ‬on a surprisingly fun note of anarchic,‭ ‬existential lunacy that is too late-too late in justifying its characters‭’ ‬artificiality,‭ ‬you won’t care about the results.‭ ‬More likely,‭ ‬you’ll wonder why people keep letting Araki make movies.

KABOOM.‭Director:‭ ‬Gregg Araki‭; ‬Cast:‭ ‬Thomas Dekker,‭ ‬Haley Bennett,‭ ‬James Duval,‭ ‬Andy Fisher-Price,‭ ‬Jason Olive,‭ ‬Juno Temple,‭ ‬Chris Zylka‭; ‬Distributor:‭ ‬IFC Films‭; ‬Rating:‭ ‬R Now playing at Living Room Theaters at FAU in Boca Raton,‭ ‬Frank Gateway‭ ‬4‭ ‬in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables Art Cinema in Coral Gables.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Film feature: Two festivals cover the ground from indie to Andy

Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer in Win Win.

By Hap Erstein

Palm Beach County used to be film-festival challenged,‭ ‬but now we have a glut of options for moviegoers who want to get away from a steady diet of studio fare and perhaps rub shoulders with some of the filmmakers.‭ ‬It is,‭ ‬after all,‭ ‬not a hard sell to get directors and actors to come to Palm Beach in the final,‭ ‬frozen days of winter.‭

Tonight kicks off the‭ ‬16th annual Palm Beach International Film Festival,‭ ‬which each year lately threatens to be its last as corporate sponsorships get tighter in this economy and the festival no longer has the political muscle it once enjoyed.‭

Still,‭ ‬it opens with a solid winner,‭ ‬Tom McCarthy’s‭ ‬Win Win,‭ ‬the assured saga of a hapless New Jersey lawyer‭ (‬the great Paul Giamatti‭) ‬who pulls an unethical move on an aging,‭ ‬growing senile client‭ (‬Burt Young‭) ‬and risks losing his practice.‭ ‬Nevertheless,‭ ‬his luck improves as the client’s grandson from Ohio comes to visit and he happens to be a wrestling whiz,‭ ‬who joins the high school squad that Giamatti coaches and breaks them out of their losing streak.‭ ‬Factor in terrific support from Amy Ryan,‭ ‬and you have a smart film with complex characters worth rooting for.

Young will be present at the screening tonight at the Muvico at CityPlace and if you miss‭ ‬Win Win tonight,‭ ‬it will likely be repeated in the final days of the nine-day fest,‭ ‬when the most popular entries are rerun.

Festival organizers are justifiably proud that they have amassed‭ ‬11‭ ‬world premieres,‭ ‬3‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬premieres and‭ ‬14‭ ‬Florida premieres,‭ ‬with films from such countries as the Netherlands,‭ ‬Italy,‭ ‬France,‭ ‬England,‭ ‬Russia,‭ ‬Israel,‭ ‬Australia,‭ ‬Liberia,‭ ‬the Czech Republic,‭ ‬Canada and Greece.‭

Attendance over the years has been erratic,‭ ‬but if independent and foreign films are your passion,‭ ‬this is probably your best local chance to see a wde variety of them on the big screen.‭ ‬For the schedule,‭ ‬go to


The cast of the Amos and Andy Show.

A decidedly more offbeat and smaller event is the African-American Film Festival,‭ ‬a series of three movies focusing on the history of black cinema,‭ ‬showing at the Kravis Center for the sixth straight year.‭

Producer James Drayton usually emphasizes films of social and cultural significance,‭ ‬but this year’s‭ ‬attention-getting theme is‭ “‬Movies We Might Rather Forget.‭”

For three Tuesday evenings,‭ ‬beginning March‭ ‬29,‭ ‬attendees can see three incredibly politically incorrect selections from the days of unabashed racial stereotyping.‭ ‬The festival kicks off with an evening of episodes from the notorious‭ ‬Amos and Andy Show,‭ ‬which is so rarely shown these days.‭ ‬Similarly,‭ ‬it will be followed by‭ ‬1945‭’‬s‭ ‬Open the Door,‭ ‬Richard,‭ ‬a starring vehicle for Stepin Fetchit,‭ ‬the comic actor whose very stage name is synonymous with‭ “‬slowness and laziness and stupidity,‭” ‬notes Drayton.

The third show of the festival is also from‭ ‬1945,‭ ‬Brewster’s Millions,‭ ‬the fable of a guy who can inherit a large fortune if he can spend a small fortune in a limited amount of time.‭ ‬If that sounds familiar,‭ ‬it is probably because of the‭ ‬1985‭ ‬remake starring Richard Pryor.‭ ‬But the one in the African-American Film Festival features Eddie‭ “‬Rochester‭” ‬Anderson,‭ ‬not in the leading role,‭ ‬but as the wealthy spendthrift’s servant sidekick.

‭“‬These are all films that have a cloud over them,‭” ‬says Drayton,‭ ‬a former area bookstore owner.‭ “‬I think this is a marvelous opportunity to really look at this and learn something.‭”

Perhaps.‭ ‬Expect a lively,‭ ‬heated discussion following each screening,‭ ‬hosted by AnEta‭ ‬Sewell,‭ ‬Emmy Award-winning former area newscaster,‭ ‬currently seen on the CW/My TV Network weekly public affairs program‭ ‬Around Our Town.‭

For more information and for tickets,‭ ‬go to‭ ‬‭

Next:‭ ‬The first ever Palm Beach Women’s International Film Festival.

Music roundup: Orchestras stand out in Shostakovich, Mendelssohn

Philippe Entremont. (Photo by Alvaro Yanez)

By Greg Stepanich

Boca Raton Symphonia‭ ‬(Sunday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬20,‭ ‬Roberts Theater,‭ ‬Boca Raton‭)

The Boca Raton Symphonia closed its most recent concert Sunday with one of its better recent performances,‭ ‬one that seemed well-suited to the orchestra‭’‬s current period‭ ‬of experimentation and expansion.

Philippe Entremont,‭ ‬in his first year as conductor of the group,‭ ‬also appeared as piano soloist in the Beethoven Triple Concerto and led an instrumental excerpt from‭ ‬a Richard Strauss opera.‭ ‬But it was the closing work,‭ ‬Rudolf Barshai‭’‬s chamber orchestra arrangement of the Third String Quartet of Shostakovich,‭ ‬that had the sharpest profile.‭

One of several Shostakovich orchestrations under the title of Chamber Symphony‭ (‬this one is in F,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬73a‭) ‬that Barshai created,‭ ‬this‭ ‬reworking of the Third Quartet is faithful to the spirit of the original in that it has the same sense of impishness and wit,‭ ‬but Barshai adds a special dark coloring to the music by using his winds in lower registers early on.

Those same winds are used relatively sparingly to underline the music,‭ ‬which even here is still basically a work for strings.‭ ‬Ensemble was good overall,‭ ‬with logical tempi and a strong sense of unity of purpose.‭ ‬There was fine solo work throughout as well,‭ ‬from violist Michael Klotz,‭ ‬flutist Jeanne Tarrant,‭ ‬cellist Jason Callaway,‭ ‬oboist Erika Yamada and violinist Misha Vitenson.

Entremont‭ ‬kept a firm hand on the work‭’‬s narrative arc,‭ ‬moving from the pizzicato smirk at the end of the first movement to a heavy drive for the three-note‭ ‬motif that starts the second movement with no letup in energy or a long pause.‭ ‬In general,‭ ‬this was not a performance that indulged in any longueurs,‭ ‬even with the Beethoven-style figure that opens the fourth-movement Adagio,‭ ‬which‭ ‬moved along in a business-like manner into a sound world that‭ ‬was moody but not inert.

There was some gratifying attention to super-soft dynamics at the outset of the fifth-movement finale,‭ ‬and the transition to the sunnier,‭ ‬klezmer-tinged main theme of the movement was akin to a long-awaited break in the clouds.‭ ‬This was a somewhat demanding,‭ ‬difficult work with which to end the concert,‭ ‬but it was played with impressive skill,‭ ‬and like much of Shostakovich‭’‬s best music,‭ ‬it has that mix of bruised tonality and seriousness of purpose that seem so emblematic of‭ ‬20th-century witness.

Sunday‭’‬s concert at the Roberts Theater on the campus of St.‭ ‬Andrew‭’‬s School in Boca Raton‭ ‬opened with a chamber orchestra version of the opening string sextet from Richard Strauss‭’‬ 1942‭ ‬opera,‭ ‬Capriccio.‭ ‬This is music of Strauss‭’‬ late manner,‭ ‬warm and slow-moving despite the occasional note-blizzard viola solo and a tempestuous contrasting section,‭ ‬and the Symphonia‭’‬s strings brought creaminess and confidence to it.

Ensemble at some points in the initial going was not precise,‭ ‬and the same was true at times in‭ ‬the final pages,‭ ‬but it didn‭’‬t detract much from the‭ ‬basic‭ ‬effect,‭ ‬which‭ ‬was sweet and highly emotive,‭ ‬or the high level of accomplishment the group demonstrated in playing it.

Violinist Ludwig Mueller and cellist Christophe Pantillon joined Entremont for the Beethoven Triple Concerto‭ (‬in C,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬56‭) ‬that ended the first half.‭ ‬For the most part,‭ ‬this also was a good performance of an unfairly neglected work,‭ ‬and it made a forceful impression on the audience.

Both Mueller and Pantillon proved to be‭ ‬expert players,‭ ‬but they both had some intonation problems,‭ ‬particularly‭ ‬in‭ ‬Pantillon‭’‬s‭ ‬high-register entrance with the‭ ‬theme in the Polish rondo finale,‭ ‬and‭ ‬more importantly‭ ‬there was something of a lack of‭ ‬cohesion between the three soloists.‭ ‬I think most of this had to do with the hall‭; ‬Entremont‭’‬s piano‭ (‬which he played winningly‭) ‬faced in,‭ ‬away from the soloists,‭ ‬as it usually does when the pianist serves as conductor and soloist.

But the piano sounded distant and foggy from the audience,‭ ‬its notes swallowed up by the concrete,‭ ‬and it rarely sounded like a partner with the other two.‭ ‬With acoustics like those of the Roberts,‭ ‬it might have been better to set up the three men piano-trio style and have someone else conduct.‭ ‬The way it was,‭ ‬it was difficult to hear the juxtaposition of the three against the orchestra.

Yet there was still plenty of good music to be heard,‭ ‬and this was essentially a fine reading of one of the more interesting concertos in the repertoire,‭ ‬particularly in the finale,‭ ‬which had an engaging sense of high spirits and dazzle toward the close.

The Boca Raton Symphonia‭’‬s next performances are set for‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬9,‭ ‬and‭ ‬3‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬10,‭ ‬at the Roberts Theater.‭ ‬Conductor David Commanday will lead pianist Soyeon Lee‭ ‬in the Piano Concerto No.‭ ‬23‭ (‬in A,‭ ‬K.‭ ‬488‭) ‬of Mozart,‭ ‬on a program that also includes the‭ ‬Italian‭ ‬Symphony‭ (‬No.‭ ‬4‭ ‬in A,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬90‭) ‬of Mendelssohn‭ ‬and Aaron Copland‭’‬s‭ ‬Music for Movies.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬376-3848‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬


Ramon Tebar.

Palm Beach Symphony‭ (‬Thursday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬17,‭ ‬Palm Beach Atlantic University‭)

Assisted by a generous acoustic,‭ ‬conductor Ramon Tebar led his Palm Beach Symphony in an exciting evening‭ ‬of interpretive‭ ‬muscularity‭ ‬Thursday in the fourth concert of the orchestra‭’‬s current season.

Tebar,‭ ‬a‭ ‬32-year-old Spaniard who was recently named music director of Miami‭’‬s Florida Grand Opera,‭ ‬is an energetic,‭ ‬passionate young conductor who shepherds his vocal and instrumental flocks through performances of great vitality.‭ ‬He is always thoroughly engaged in the music he‭’‬s making,‭ ‬and he brings a nice spark of star power to each of his podium appearances.

Thursday‭’‬s concert in the DeSantis Chapel on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University was most enjoyable,‭ ‬not least because the acoustics of the chapel help round out and fill‭ ‬out the sound of the orchestra.‭ ‬It sounds like a much bigger band because of it,‭ ‬and‭ ‬you could hear the players growing more confident as the concert went on.‭ ‬(After all,‭ ‬that‭’‬s literally what good feedback will do for you.‭)

There were two important symphonies in D major‭ ‬(and minor‭) ‬on the program,‭ ‬both from early in the respective composers‭’‬ careers:‭ ‬Haydn‭’‬s No.‭ ‬6‭ (‬called‭ ‬Le Matin‭)‬,‭ ‬and Mendelssohn‭’‬s No.‭ ‬5‭ (‬Reformation,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬107‭)‬,‭ ‬which is actually a much earlier work than its chronological or opus numbers would indicate.

The Haydn symphony was written in keeping with a concertante format that allowed the composer to show off the capabilities of his individual players,‭ ‬especially in the second movement,‭ ‬with its extensive work for solo violin and cello.‭ ‬But there are prominent solo wind moments in the other movements,‭ ‬which adds to the fresh,‭ ‬springy color of the music,‭ ‬helped along here by Tebar‭’‬s‭ ‬vigorous tempi.

The first movement had a lovely sense of lift and energy right from the first flute entrance,‭ ‬and the orchestra played all the rapid movements like a young man‭’‬s symphony,‭ ‬with exuberance and forward motion.‭ ‬Violinist Laura Miller and cellist Christopher Glansdorp tackled their solo work admirably,‭ ‬and in the same spirit‭; ‬Miller was slightly‭ ‬under pitch some of the time,‭ ‬but she had a good rustic touch to her initial statement,‭ ‬as if summoning the village band to order.

In the minor-key trio section of the third movement,‭ ‬which features bassoon and double bass,‭ ‬bassoonist Michael Ellert played deftly above a bass dance figure that sounded like a thunderous rumble in the chapel,‭ ‬giving the music a heavier dose of contrast than Haydn intended.‭ ‬In the finale,‭ ‬Tebar chose a headlong tempo that evoked the wide-open fields outside instead of the indoors ritual of Esterhaza,‭ ‬and the effect was‭ ‬invigorating.

The Stravinsky‭ ‬Danses Concertantes that came next was welcome not just for its rarity on local concert programming but for its excellence as a pairing with the Haydn symphony.‭ ‬Written‭ ‬(in‭ ‬1941-2‭) ‬in the neoclassic style of the Symphony in C,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Dumbarton Oaks concerto and‭ ‬Jeu de Cartes,‭ ‬it is filled with the wind solo work that was such an integral part of the composer‭’‬s contemporary style.

It also shares the Haydn‭’‬s sense of fun and innovation,‭ ‬with its unexpected accents,‭ ‬surprising‭ ‬instrumental combinations and overall feeling of good spirits.‭ ‬Tebar and his players paid scrupulous attention to dynamics as well as getting the offbeat accents right,‭ ‬and that helped throw the contour of the work into high relief.‭

This was a meaty,‭ ‬sometimes boisterous reading of the Stravinsky work,‭ ‬with sharp playing all around,‭ ‬especially from the winds,‭ ‬who have to carry much of the musical argument in the later movements.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a pity this work isn‭’‬t heard more often in area concerts‭; ‬it fit this program beautifully.

The concert closed with the Mendelssohn Fifth,‭ ‬which is not as effective a work as the later‭ ‬Scotch or‭ ‬Italian symphonies,‭ ‬but Tebar and the Palm Beachers gave it as persuasive a performance as I‭’‬ve heard in some time.‭ ‬The first movement was fraught with tension,‭ ‬and the second bubbled along at a good clip,‭ ‬and some pretty string sound in the contrasting section when violas and celli took up the main theme.

The third movement was smoothly played,‭ ‬and in the finale,‭ ‬Tebar went for bigness.‭ ‬Boosted again by‭ ‬the acoustic,‭ ‬this was the‭ ‬just the‭ ‬kind of celebratory epic sound Mendelssohn might well have been looking for in his mind‭’‬s ear when first he wrote his tribute to Luther‭’‬s revolution and borrowed his hymn for the finale.

The Palm Beach Symphony will wrap its season next week at the Flagler Museum with a performance featuring pianist Lola Astanova in‭ ‬the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto‭ (‬in C minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬18‭) ‬and the Symphony No.‭ ‬3‭ (‬in E-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬55,‭ ‬Eroica‭) ‬of Beethoven.‭ ‬The concert starts at‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$50.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬655-2657‭ ‬or visit

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Theater roundup: Romance and its aftermath, on three stages

J.‭ ‬Fred Shiffman and Kate Eastwood Norris in Ghost-Writer.

By Hap Erstein

A former musician turned playwright,‭ ‬Michael Hollinger is clearly fascinated with the music of words.

Such an interest was evident in his earlier play,‭ ‬Opus,‭ ‬about the search for harmony among the members of a string quartet.‭ ‬A similar verbal playfulness is present in his latest work,‭ ‬Ghost-Writer,‭ ‬a look at the creative process of a fastidious novelist,‭ ‬who dictates his prose to his loyal secretary,‭ ‬in this life and perhaps beyond.

Set in Manhattan in‭ ‬1919,‭ ‬this compact,‭ ‬85-minute play centers on the renowned,‭ ‬albeit fictional,‭ ‬man of letters Franklin Woolsey and his efficient new typist Myra Babbage.‭ ‬Together,‭ ‬they set down on paper his latest,‭ ‬and last,‭ ‬tome,‭ ‬he providing the words and she adding the punctuation.‭ ‬Over time,‭ ‬they work so closely that Myra begins to anticipate what Woolsey is about to say.‭ ‬And when he dies suddenly,‭ ‬she insists that she continues to receive his dictation and she completes his novel,‭ ‬much to the irritation and envy of his widow.‭

It is possible that Woolsey is communicating from beyond the grave,‭ ‬but we only have Myra’s word for that,‭ ‬as she tells her far-fetched tale to an unseen interrogator sent by Mrs.‭ ‬Woolsey to debunk the prim young woman’s account.‭ ‬But it seems more likely that Hollinger is intent on considering the nature of inspiration,‭ ‬as supernatural a phenomenon as any ghost.‭ ‬And if something romantic was blossoming between employer‭ ‬and employee,‭ ‬that too is an emotional state difficult to define.‭

Florida Stage has been producing plays by Hollinger for the past‭ ‬14‭ ‬years,‭ ‬including‭ ‬Opus‭ ‬--‭ ‬which went on to acclaim off-Broadway‭ ‬--‭ ‬and now‭ ‬Ghost-Writer.‭ ‬Director Louis Tyrrell draws us into the hermetically sealed world of Franklin and Myra,‭ ‬in a captivating production that makes astute use of the company’s new quarters at the Kravis Center.

Much of the play rests on the shoulders of Kate Eastwood Norris,‭ ‬who has the audience mesmerized from her carefully worded opening monologue.‭ ‬She knows her station,‭ ‬but let Woolsey suggest a semi-colon when a full-stop period is called for and she will speak up firmly.‭ ‬As Woolsey,‭ ‬J.‭ ‬Fred Shiffman is a worthy foil for her,‭ ‬taking great umbrage at each word choice challenge.‭ ‬And when,‭ ‬strictly for literary research,‭ ‬Woolsey asks Myra to teach him a ballroom dance,‭ ‬the ambient temperature in the Rinker Playhouse rises a few degrees.

Completing the play’s triangle is Lourelene Snedeker as imperious Vivian Woolsey,‭ ‬whose distain for Myra is both comic and touching.‭ ‬Ultimately,‭ ‬Ghost-Writer is a love story‭ ‬--‭ ‬romantic love and love of the power of words‭ ‬--‭ ‬and a play to admire.

GHOST-WRITER,‭ ‬Florida Stage at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse,‭ ‬701‭ ‬Okeechobee Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬3.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$25-$50.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(561‭) ‬585-3433‭ ‬or‭ ‬(800‭) ‬514-3837.

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Irene Adjan,‭ ‬Josh Canfield and Tom Wahl in Next Fall.

During his long tenure as founding artistic director of the Caldwell Theatre Company,‭ ‬Michael Hall was adept at scouting new plays from New York and bringing them to South Florida in well-acted,‭ ‬attractively appointed productions.

With Hall back temporarily from retirement to stage Geoffrey Nauffts‭’ ‬engrossing‭ ‬Next Fall,‭ ‬it feels like old times at the Caldwell.‭ ‬Not just because of the play’s gay theme,‭ ‬a subject Hall has pioneered in the area,‭ ‬from‭ ‬Bent‭ ‬to‭ ‬The Boys in the Band,‭ ‬to‭ ‬Gross Indecency:‭ ‬The Trials of Oscar Wilde,‭ ‬to‭ ‬Take Me Out.‭

Unlike those works,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬homosexuality is just one of the issues under consideration in this story of a mismatched couple,‭ ‬15‭ ‬years apart in age,‭ ‬one a devout fundamentalist Christian and the other a staunch atheist.‭ ‬As the play begins,‭ ‬believer Luke,‭ ‬a‭ ‬20-something actor wannabe,‭ ‬is hit by a taxi,‭ ‬landing him in a coma in the intensive care unit of Beth Israel Hospital.‭

There his partner Adam and a couple of Luke’s friends hold vigil in the waiting room,‭ ‬along with the collision victim’s North Florida parents,‭ ‬who are both ignorant of their son’s sexual orientation and that he has been living with Adam for the past four years.

Yes,‭ ‬it is a recipe for soap opera,‭ ‬but Nauffts,‭ ‬artistic director of New York’s Naked Angels theater company,‭ ‬is too smart to settle for easy answers or white hat-black hat heroes and villains.‭ ‬True,‭ ‬Luke’s father Butch is rather homophobic and racist,‭ ‬but particularly as played by Dennis Bateman,‭ ‬he comes across as a fully dimensional character rather than a stereotypical bigot.‭

Still,‭ ‬he is an embarrassment to his former wife,‭ ‬Arlene,‭ ‬a tough cookie played with wily smarts by Caldwell veteran Pat Nesbit.‭ ‬She injects humor into the dour situation,‭ ‬which would be leavening relief if all of the characters were not so quick with a quip.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬Hall encourages his cast to flesh out these characters beyond the schematic extremes on the page.

As Adam,‭ ‬Tom Wahl projects a likeability,‭ ‬despite his evident neuroses.‭ ‬He is not only uncomfortable with his partner Luke’s‭ (‬Josh Canfield‭) ‬spiritual beliefs,‭ ‬but annoyed by his habit of praying for forgiveness after sex.‭ ‬In his Caldwell debut,‭ ‬the extremely buff Canfield refuses to settle for a caricature of a religious zealot.‭ ‬While Nauffts never quite convinces us that these two very different men would live together for so long,‭ ‬the actors convey an unforced affection that fills that gap.

Scenic designer Tim Bennett allows the play to move briskly over time and space with an efficient,‭ ‬attractive earth-tone unit set that makes crafty use of slide-away panels.‭ ‬The result is a reminder of why the Caldwell has been such a theatrical mainstay in South Florida for four decades,‭ ‬bringing thought-provoking plays to the area and,‭ ‬when necessary,‭ ‬glossing over their weaknesses with first-rate productions.‭

NEXT FALL,‭ ‬Caldwell Theatre Co.,‭ ‬7901‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Federal Highway,‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬27.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$27-$75.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(561‭) ‬241-7432‭ ‬0r‭ ‬(877‭) ‬245-7432.

‭ * * *

Erin Joy Schmidt,‭ ‬Jim Ballard,‭ ‬Sarah Grace Wilson
in Dinner with Friends.

In its pursuit of‭ “‬theater to think about,‭” ‬Palm Beach Dramaworks has been showcasing a Pulitzer Prize winner each season,‭ ‬as long as it has something to say to a contemporary audience and can fit on the company’s intimate‭ ‬--‭ ‬as in small‭ ‬--‭ ‬stage.

Filling that bill,‭ ‬thanks to some directorial ingenuity by J.‭ ‬Barry Lewis and a clever scenic design by Vince Mountain,‭ ‬is Donald Margulies‭’ ‬Dinner with Friends,‭ ‬a look at the emotional toll of a shattered marriage on not only the divorcing couple,‭ ‬but their closest friends as well.

After all,‭ ‬who does not know people who have trudged through the minefield of divorce,‭ ‬or experienced it themselves‭?

Loaded with insights,‭ ‬laced with pain and yet plenty of character-driven humor,‭ ‬chances are you will find yourself identifying with some of these four‭ ‬40-something folks and pondering their parallels to your own life.‭

Margulies is aided by Lewis’s cast,‭ ‬all new to the Dramaworks stage,‭ ‬although Erin Joy Schmidt and Jim Ballard,‭ ‬as freelance food writers Karen and Gabe,‭ ‬should be familiar to South Florida theatergoers from their work in the region.‭ ‬Playing their longtime friends,‭ ‬Tom and Beth‭ ‬--‭ ‬the splitting duo that Karen and Gabe introduced to each other a dozen years ago‭ ‬--‭ ‬are Eric Martin Brown and Sarah Grace Wilson,‭ ‬who are married in real life,‭ ‬which may explain the authenticity they bring to their first-act verbal battle.

The play begins on a light note,‭ ‬as Karen and Gabe babble on to Beth about their recent culinary tour of Italy,‭ ‬as they ply her with pumpkin risotto,‭ ‬grilled lamb and lemon-almond polenta cake.‭ ‬Eventually they pause long enough for Beth to blurt out between sobs that Tom has left her for another woman.‭ ‬A travel agent,‭ ‬no less.‭

That unexpected jolt triggers reflection on Gabe and Karen’s part,‭ ‬not only about the effect on their relationship with Beth and Tom,‭ ‬but ultimately about the nature and durability of their own marriage.‭ ‬Of course,‭ ‬the situation is not as simple as first presented,‭ ‬as Margulies then layers on additional information that has us changing our allegiances between the separating couple,‭ ‬as,‭ ‬for instance,‭ ‬when we learn of Beth’s own indiscretions soon after she married Tom.

As he has in such other plays as‭ ‬Sight Unseen,‭ ‬Collected Stories and‭ ‬Brooklyn Boy,‭ ‬Margulies manages to be profound without drifting into the philosophical.‭ ‬There have been plenty of plays and films about divorce,‭ ‬but few as accessible and thought-provoking.‭ ‬Margulies has a way of getting inside our heads and under our skin,‭ ‬and this Dramaworks production is a nourishing theatrical meal.

DINNER WITH FRIENDS,‭Palm Beach Dramaworks,‭ ‬322‭ ‬Banyan Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Through Sun.,‭ ‬April‭ ‬17.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$47.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(561‭) ‬514-4042.