Blogs > The Arts Whisperer

Offering a fresh way of helping you keep up with art and entertainment happenings around the Capital District.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

family fun on a budget

It isn't only adults who get cabin fever - kids suffer from it too. And, more often than not, they contribute to the severity of it for adults.

There's some pretty interesting stuff available this weekend so it might be a good time to get the entire family out of the house. Better yet, a lot of it is pretty inexpensive.

Steamer No. 10 in Albany, located at 500 Western Ave. (at the intersection Madison and Western)is the leading venue for area children's theater. They are currently offering the Robert Lewis Stevenson classic "Treasure Island." With pirates still in the news, the show might work as social studies as well as entertainment. Performances are 3 p.m. Saturday and 11 and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $12. 438-5503 www,

This weekend,the State Museum is having "Museum Invaders Day" Between 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday youngsters will be invited on a scavenger hunt, design and draw an invader and using recycled materials even sculpt an invader. During the day a screening featuring the world's most lovable invader "ET" will be shown in the Clark Auditorium. Everything is free. For details call 473-7154 or go to

It might sound high-minded but the Albany Symphony Orchestra family events are a lot of fun for youngsters and adults. Exposing your kids to music by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Haydn and Schumann might sound daunting, but when the program is called "Raiders of the Lost Symphony" it becomes a really enjoyable adventure. It's at 3 p.m. Sunday $16. 465-4663 or

If you prefer outdoor activities Saturday is Frost Faire at the Saratoga National Historic Park. Between 1-3 p.m. there will be tubing on the hill, horse-drawn carriage rides, winter nature trails and games. Hot cocoa and cookies will be available by a large bonfire. It's free. For information call 664-9821 ext. 224

Take the kids out for a field trip - they'll enjoy it and it will relax you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Budget fun

With the economy going south, there seems to be a desire to find events that serve the pocketbook and well as the entertainment part of the brain. I will use this forum on a weekly basis to alert you to good things at great prices.

This Sunday, Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs is offering a free play reading of "I Am My Own Wife." It's at 3 p.m. in the Little Theater on the grounds of Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

A good play reading is essentially a rehearsed performance with the actors working with script in hand. "I Am My Own Wife" should make a good reading as it is a one-person show, which tends to convert well to readings. That "I Am My Own Wife" is great material also adds to the experience. It is a play about Charlotte von Mahisdorf, who prospered while living behind the Iron Curtain as she outwitted both the Nazis and the Communists while living in East Germany.

The tale is interesting as it stands because Charlotte is such a bigger-than-life figure. It becomes intriguing when Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright discovers that politically Charlotte might not be the person she presented herself to be during their interviews. Wright twists the play from biography to a piece of theater that leaves you thinking about reality and truth in art. It's free and well-worth your time.

Also on Sunday is a free concert in Clifton Park. Northeast String Orchestra is offering it's Second Annual Winter Concert at Shenendehowa United Methodist Church on Route 146. The concert is at 6 p.m. and admission is free.

Northeast String Orchestra was formed in 2007 by teachers Ellen Madison and Susan Nazzaro for young performers ranging from second to ninth graders. Before you roll your eyes at the youth of the performers, reflect on how many superior performers you experienced that were ignored by others because they didn't realize the talents of our young performers.

The conductor is Ubaldo Valli, who has put together a program consisting of pieces by G.F. Handel, Robert Schumann, Richard A. Stephan and Brian Israel. The work will challenge the performers and entertain the audience. As I said, it's free

This is your last chance to attend The Hyde Collections exhibit "California Impressionism: Paintings from the Irvine Museum." The exhibit in the Charles Wood Gallery closes on Sunday. It is free and open to the public.

Located in Glens Falls, The Hyde just might be one of the most underrated art museums in the area. Not only does this 60-painting exhibit promise to be gorgeous, it is revealing as it shows how California's climate fostered an art movement that had its roots in France.

The Hyde Collection is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday noon- 5 p.m. If you miss this exhibit, their permanent collection alone is worth the drive to Glens Falls

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Golden Globes

Whenever I watch an awards show on television, I wake up the next morning with a severe case of buyer remorse. This past Sunday's Golden Globe Award show was no exception. What used to be a fun show has turned into a clone of the dull Academy Awards.

I don't care how good your hairdresser is, or how lovable you pet dog can be, they weren't the reason you won the award. Maybe your agent helped, but I don't care about him either. Stop thanking people and talk from the heart. I understand the show got poor ratings - good.

That said, I have to admit, I have seldom been so satisfied with those who won the awards.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is a sensational film. It's a love story, a social documentary and it even has suspense. Though most of it takes place in the slums of India, it is visually beautiful. Danny Boyle who earned his bones with "Trainspotting" does a superior job keeping all the elements tied together and earned his award for Best Director. This is an accessible film that should appeal to all demographics.

As for Heath Ledger's award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, no award has ever been more deserving. I've seen "The Dark Knight" twice and his performance gets richer with each viewing. Does anyone know why "The Dark Knight" wasn't up for an award for best film? It's certain to be for the Academy Awards and it will be fun to see the battle between the blockbuster and the small treasure.

I was also pleased with Colin Farrell getting the Best Actor Award for a Comedy or Musical for his work in "In Bruges." However, though the film is often very funny, in a quirky way, it is also a violent film that pushes the definition of comedy. I really liked the film and if you see it and don't want to travel to Bruges on your next vacation, you weren't paying attention. Another happy point. The film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, my favorite contemporary playwright. I don't want to wish him too much success for fear he'll leave theater.

Finally, I have mixed emotions about the Mickey Rourke award for Best Actor in a Drama for his work in "The Wrestler." I haven't seen the film, but I've heard great things about it. However, I cannot help but think Rourke got a boost by living Hollywood's favorite fairytale - a survivor who staged a comeback. They could have played the theme from "Rocky" instead of Springstein's award-winning song when he picked up the trophy. I've always appreciated Rourke's work - especially in what I thought was my life story "The Diner' - but I fear success might again trigger his self-destructive tendencies. I hope not.

Next up is the Academy Awards and I hate to admit it, but I'll probably watch it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Signs of Summer

I don't know about you, but I'm looking for all the help I can get to convince me that winter is going to end. Berkshire Theater Festival, in Stckbridge, Mass, announcing their summer season is a good start.

Nonetheless, I find it hard to get excited about a main stage season that includes a musical review to open, followed by a dense work about Einstein that appeared at their small Unicorn Theatre a couple of seasons ago, and a dark Neil Simon comedy as the third play.

I applaud the risk of selecting "Ghosts," an Ibsen play, to run during August and I can understand expanding the season into September with the family musical "Peter Pan."

As has become normal for theater festivals, the adventurous work is to be found at the Second Stages - at BTF the space is called The Unicorn Theatre. I have to admit the show I am most anxious to see is "Red Remembers." As a dedicated (fanatical) former-Brooklyn Dodger fan (long, long ago) a one-man show about the team's radio announcer Red Barber is a trip down memory lane. As Red would have said, "It's the catbird seat." But, I'm said to have to wait until nearly World Series time to see it.

"Faith Healer" is a three-person show using monologues; "Sick" is a new play. I wonder how the musical "The Wiz" (an updated version of "The Wizard of Oz") is going to play on the small stage. I believe this is the fourth season BTF is producing "A Christmas Carol" for the holidays.

Clearly this is a schedule put together with two eyes on the economic climate. There are enough good plays in the offering for BTF to keep its reputation, but any season by a professional theater company that depends on both Peter Pan and Dorothy is - in my mind - a bit suspect.

Main Stage:

Broadway by the Year®-June 19-June 27

The Einstein Project-June 30-July 18

The Prisoner of Second Avenue-July 21-August 8

Ghosts-August 11-August 29

Peter Pan: The Musical*-September 4-September 13

Unicorn Theatre

Faith Healer-May 21-July 4

The Wiz-July 7-August 15

Sick-August 18-September 6

Red Remembers-September 11-November 1

A Christmas Carol*-December 10-December 30

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dark Days on Broadway

In tough economic times, one of the first things people cut back on is entertainment. It's my understanding things like restaurants and theater are not eliminated from a budget - they are merely downsized. For example, instead of eating out once a week people go to a restaurant or the theater every two weeks.

The term is called "going down the ladder."

Broadway just had a few rungs cut off their ladder. In January 13 shows are closing. That's about half the shows that were running in December. Imagine 50% of all Broadway shows closing within weeks of each other.

Certainly some shows like "White Christmas," deserve to close. It was a low-quality show that exploited the classic Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye film. Too, whatever appeal it had was seasonal.

A case can be made that "Hairspray" had also worn out its welcome on Broadway, especially since the film came out last year.

However, one expected the Mel Brooks musical "Young Frankenstein" and the comedy "Boeing, Boeing" to last through the spring. Sadly, unknown titles like the well-received "Slavia's Snowshoes" could not survive long enough to develop a word-of-mouth audience.

I tend to have little sympathy for an industry that charges up to $125 a ticket and runs for years without showing a profit. But as a person who loves theater it is scary that an industry that thrives on tourism and expense accounts is doing so badly.

It makes me wonder how the economic problems that are expected to continue (at least) through 2009 will affect local performing arts organizations. I know of no arts organization boasting about their healthy finances. I'm afraid many will be facing a tough year.

Just as important, I worry about scheduling choices that will be made with an eye towards safe titles, with a presumed audience appeal. Seasons of Neil Simon plays (even the good ones) are not what theater needs at this time.

With government and corporate grants evaporating - don't be surprised to see several of our theater organizations flirting with disaster. 2009 will be a very hard year.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Top Six

At this time of year we usually publish our Top Ten lists in Insight. However, that list usually is made up of shows we've reviewed and, therefore, are local. However, the are a number of other shows I've seen that don't make the pages of our print edition.

Without question, my most memorable theater experience was a disaster. Such works are special because few people have or will see the work. Generally you go without knowing the show will be bad. (I saw it in preview, the weekend before it opened.) The only people who willingly decide to see something they know is painfully bad are called masochists.

The musical version of "Gone With the Wind" I saw in London in April, had a tediously bad score and the never-ending story-line was endless and boring. This was not your typical bad show. It had barely a redeeming virtue. The total and complete badness of show show gave it a special significance above the quality of the work as it was directed by Trevor Nunn. Nunn is a former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He co-directed the original production of "Nicholas Nickleby" and gained commercial success with"Phantom of the Opera," "Cats" and "Sunset Boulevard"- amongst so many others. He is a giant in the world of theater/

If a man with the background of Trevor Nunn could not see that a 4 1/2 hour musical-production of "Gone With the Wind" was a potential disaster, it proves that we all have blind spots. There are lessons to be learned even in failure.

Another great theater memory of 2008 was "Jerry Springer: the Opera," which I saw last January in a concert-version at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Though the concept seems exploitive, the material was anything but. The music was great, while the lyrics supported the theme of the piece - which is, we have the right to decide who we want to be. However, the show went on to say - you made the choice, live with it. Stop blaming others (especially God) if you are unhappy about the fall-out from your choice.

My best dramatic experience of the year was the Tony Award winning "August: Osage County." Brilliant writing and excellent acting. I'm not sure how many local regional or community theaters will attempt this large cast, three act, three and a half hour play. More to the point, I don't know how many will do the material justice. I have a rule of thumb that says - the better the material, the more difficult it is to perform. "August" is a great play.

Another great piece of theater I experienced in London was at the National Theater. I don't agree that British actors are by birth better classical actors than Americans. However, I do think they have a natural affinity for the work of George Bernard Shaw. The national production of Shaw's "Major Barbara" was brilliant, insightful and so relevant to the world today. An added bonus was superior technical support that did not overpower the material or the performances.

This is not a Top Ten list but I could make it a Top Six by adding the overlooked musical "Catered Affair" that closed too soon on Broadway and "God of Carnage" a new play by the author of "Art" that should be a big hit when it arrives in the US.

I hope 2009 permits me to travel to London again, and I know I'll be making regular trips to Broadway.