Blogs > The Arts Whisperer

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

last call for some theater

In this area most theater runs are about three weeks and that usually means three weekends. There is an exception. Lake George Dinner Theater opens in June and runs to Oct. 29 That's a bit over five months. That is longer than some shows run on Broadway.

A problem can be with a long run there is no urgency to see the show because you think you have plenty of time. If you haven't noticed Oct. 29 is Saturday. It's kind of last call.

"Skin Deep" is a show I can recommend to anyone. It's funny, touching, smart and well performed. It is about people who feel like outsiders who - in this case because of their weight, but it could be any imagined flaw - deny themselves love. The happy ending is well deserved.

"Skin Deep" isn't the only play closing this weekend. "Hair" the 60s rock musical at Home Made Theater in Saratoga closes a three weekend run after the Sunday matinee. I found some problems with the authenticity of most of the performers but the score remains fantastic and the cast sings it well.

This is also the final weekend for "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" playing at the Arts Center in Saratoga. If you are looking for mindless entertainment you have found the right show. It's everything the title suggests. It's silly campy fun. It has a good score that is well sung and at 90-minutes length it doesn't tax your brain in the slightest.

If you prefer a timely show - what could be better on a Halloween weekend than a musical "Zombie Prom" - especially when the show is offered free of charge. Sunday is the final performance. It's at the Shenendahowa HS East in Clifton Park.

Another Sunday losing is perhaps the biggest name of all. It's the national tour of "La Cage Aux Folles" at Proctors Theatre starring George Hamilton. It's a fun show that expresses some important values about love and family. It has a number of great songs and a lot of laughs.

Not every show closes this weekend, nor is every show frivolous fun. At Curtain Call Theatre in Latham their production of"The Diary of Ann Frank" plays until Nov. 9. It's the definitive play about the Holocaust and when seen through the innocent eyes of a young girl the tale remains touching and meaningful

This is the last weekend for a lot of good shows. But if you can't go to something, too bad. But one of the best things about this area for going to theater - you can be sure another good show will be opening soon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

dance at proctors

Next week Proctors theater will likely be filled for eight performances of "La Cage aux Folles" starring George Hamilton. That's as it should be. The show is both fun and thoughtful.
However, this week Proctors hosted two dance events that were fun and thoughtful - but they drew sparse audiences. That's too bad, but it is a start for Proctors to develop and audience as loyal for dance as it is for theater. A positive sign is there were more people in their thirties as the two dance events than will be at the eight performance of "La Cage." Hurray for that.
The Thursday night piece was "Radio and Juliet." It was the contemporary dance company Ballet Maribor interpreting Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" performed to the music of Radiohead. It was an amazing performance that was fascinating to watch. The talent of the cast was both athletic and intellectual.
Granted if you didn't know the plot was taken from "Romeo and Juliet" you might not realize it. However, what you would get was the emotional core of a tragic love story. And if you didn't get that - you'd be satisfied and thrilled with the abilities of the dancers, especially the synchronized movements of the cast.
It was a breathtaking and marvelous performance.
On Friday night Proctors offered Angel Reapers, a fusion of dance and theater that was eloquent, moody and brilliantly executed. It looks at the Shakers and its founders Ann Lee and her brother William Lee with an open and mindful eye.
The piece is as much theater as it is dance. The dance choreographed by director Martha Clarke is so integrated in the life of the piece it seems organic rather than conceived. Indeed rather than dance it is tempting to call it movement. But choreographed dance it is - with movements as simple as the Shaker faith itself and as complicated as the emotional conflicts caused by its belief in the value celibacy.
The piece gains its tension from this conflict between body and spirit. As Brother William says - mentally I'm an angel, physically I'm a man. The dance builds on the tension of adults needing a release and it is made human by the words of Alfred Uhry who has the characters eloquently express both their physical needs and their spiritual quest. One element of the production was the use of silence that was frequently profound as it drew you into the minds of the characters.
Angel Reapers is a work that keeps word and movement in perfect synch to such a degree that you hardly notice there is no music, The songs are almost chants and the dancing seems internally driven.
Angel Reapers is a beautiful and intelligent work that makes you think about both cults and the individual. It is one of the best events I've seen at Proctors this year.
Philip Morris deserves a lot of credit for scheduling the two shows. Neither production drew large crowds which is a disappointment, but it is an important step for Proctors in building an audience for the art form. His major problem will be topping these two shows.
I'm sorry for you that you probably missed them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

George Hamilton

American audiences love survivors, which means they have to love George Hamilton who next week appears at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady performing in 8 shows of "La Cage aux Folles."
It's not as if Hamilton was one of those druggies who rehabilitated himself in his later years. No Hamilton was always a solid citizen of Hollywood. It's just that no one expected him to be around and remain popular for over 50 years.
In a recent interview Hamilton says part of the reason for his durability is "Audiences trust me." He in turn respects his audience. Indeed, he said he favorite job would be to do a one-man show where he would go around the country and just speak to audiences, tell stories and answer their questions. "I'm really good at being myself," he says.
And the stories would be great. We spoke for about 30-minutes and the conversation was filled with famous names and stories. Cary Grant was a very shy man who told him to do a film every three years or the fans would forget you. He is good friends with Robert Wagner but whenever they call each other they each talk using a Cary Grant accent. Robert Mitchem used to send him a mother's day card every year. He leaves his characters onstage but Al Pacino lived his character 24 hours a day until the film was complete.
With another person it would seem a classic case of name-dropping but with Hamilton it was natural and often used to make a point. He says because of the demands of this tour he is very careful about his health and physical condition. "I don't drink, maybe an occasional glass of wine, and go to bed right after the performance." His philosophy? "Enjoy life. Work hard and diligently and grow old with a smile on my face."
The he adds, "I loved Dean Martin and liked to hang out with him. But Dean burned himself out. The same with Frank (Sinatra) and Sammy (Davis). I learned from their experiences."
Hamilton is now 72 years old and has signed onto the "La Cage aux Folles" tour for 15 months. "It's a marathon," he says. But he says such risky ventures are part of his life. "I've always believed in being in something for the long haul. I think the way to grow old is to do things at half-measure."
He insists he is enjoying every moment. But he points out the tour has only been out for three weeks. "Ask me more in six months" he says with the famous George Hamilton chuckle.
That's for later all we have to worry about is until November 1 when the tour heads to the next city. So next week stop by Proctors and spend time with a legend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

arts nights out

If there is one single complaint I hear most often - it is why don't organizations work together to schedule their events to better serve the public? It seems it is always feast or famine when it comes to arts and entertainment. The next 8 days will see local theater companies opening 9 plays. Then there will be little community theater available until the end of November or early December. People wonder - why does everyone have to open at the same time and limit the audience for each event?
One group that has been very good about respecting turf has been the monthly public arts gatherings that take place in various cities in the area. Troy holds Troy Night Out on the last Friday of every month. Albany has First Friday on the first Friday of every month and Arts Night is held in Schenectady on the third Friday of the month. This way no city interferes with another and the public can attend all three - should anyone care to do so.
Tomorrow night - the three groups will each hold their event on the same night. It turns out each gave up their Friday identity as Oct. 14 is the second Friday of the month of October - the one Friday of the month not used for an arts gathering (hint, hint to Saratoga Springs).
The reason for this is a sign of unity is support of MoHu, the 9-day festival designed to bring attention to all the cultural opportunities that exist in our region. By having the streets of Troy, Albany and Schenectady filled with artists, entertainers and participants it is clear visual sign of an area that has a vital core of cultural opportunity.
I doubt that a person would would two cities, and three is impossible - so the choice is to pick one. I'm not certain how this helps any one group or expand their audience. Perhaps it will bring out people who have never attended an arts night or revitalize those who have started to take the events for granted and stopped going
At any rate it is a sign that the organizers of arts events can work together. And that alone is a good thing.

Monday, October 3, 2011

MoHu Festival

MoHu sounds like something you might get in a health food store. It happens to be the name of a culture festival taking place between Oct. 8- 16. Approximately 150 artists, producting organizations and venues will take part and offer several hundred events over the 9 days of the festival.

The organizers are hoping for 50,000 people to attend the various events which range from art to music to theater to dance. Most will be small events but plenty of events are large like "The Capital District Sings" will use multiple choruses and many performers."

Philip Morris, the CEO of Proctors and one of the forces behind MoHu, believes the diversity of this event represents the wide cultural gaps MoHu will fill for the community. The event is being led by Albany Pro Musica and will include the Gay Men's Chorus, the Chinese Community Center Chorus, Ne'imah Jewish Community Chorus, the Electric City Chorus and Octavo Singers. That's like the UN of choral shows.

Morris hopes that MoHu will be a way of fostering collaboration between organizations in the future and not just for 9 days and he is not alone in seeing the necessity for organizations to start thinking regionally. Some 20 years ago a civic leader and early exponent of regionalism told me it was easier to get people to fly across the Atlantic Ocean than it was to get them to cross the Hudson River using a bridge. It's still true today.

MoHu is a great idea, but it is working without a budget or an official leader. The idea is for each group to market themselves as part of MoHu and hope a larger concept is left in the public's mind. The result is the festival is only two days out few people know that MoHu is happening.

A major problem is that this year MoHu is really an umbrella marketing tool. There are few if any programs created for MoHu. Almost everything on the schedule would have happened anyway.

Which is still pretty impressive. And, that is the point of the first MoHu festival. To get people to pay attention to what they take for granted. There is so much to do in this area it is impossible to do everything. The problem is few people realize all the arts and cultural events that areoffered in thearea. t Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the artistic director of Capital Rep, calls it " an embarrassment of riches."

Short term MoHu is about raising awareness. Long term it's about branding. Robert Altman the president of WMHT chairs the committee. He believes that local cultural organizations have to raise the attention of private business and government as to the economic value of the arts. "The arts are an economic engine," he says. Then adds that the arts are critical in drawing new high-powered businesses to the area. "Tomorrow's educated workforce isn't just interested in only a job. They will want to live in a place that enriches their lives. Events like MoHu are a way of showing the capital region is that kind of place. If we want major companies to invest in this area, we must invest in the arts."

Morris points out how the area has embraced the term Tech Valley to describe the business climate of the region. He says, "That might be good for business, but it doesn't do much for the arts. We have to find a brand that defines us as a cultural entity."

Could that brand be MoHu? It doesn't flow easily off the lips and seems rather vague in concept. But think back in the early sixties in Manhattan the area just south of Houston Street was a desolated place you were warned to to go near after dark. Today SoHo is one of the hippest areas in NYC.

Locally, before 1965 who knew what a SPAC was? Today, try to imagine life without it. So maybe in the future when someone asks you where you live - you might answer "Upstate NY, in the area that borders the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. You know -MoHu."

One Man, Two Guvnors

This is the third season that London's National Theatre has been broadcasting live productions of their shows all over the world. I've seen almost every one and I think it is one of the best experiences a theatergoer can have. There is little doubt that the National is one of the finest theater companies in the world and to see one of their productions for slightly more that the price of a movie ticket ($15) is a marvelous opportunity.

Yesterday I attended "One Man, Two Guvenors" at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany and it is an example of how well NT Live has honed the ability to make you feel you are actually in the audience of a live production. "Two Guvs" is a farce. It's one of the more difficult theatrical genres to pull off because the audience must believe the people in the situation believe the crisis they have created even though we know it is improbable. The fun comes from watching high stakes play out knowing the stakes are really low.

Making this event even more difficult is the way the cast interacts with the audience. This is difficult in any circumstance but when it is being done on film it can seem terribly artificial. The cast pulls it off brilliantly.

More specifically James Corden who plays Francis,the man who has a job working for two criminal types without the other knowing about it, is simply marvelous in all aspect of his performance. It's one of those performances that have you thinking why is this guy not famous?

This is not a one-man show. Indeed it uses a large cast and each person is flawless.

I am one of those people who seldom laugh-out-loud in the theater and hardly ever when I am alone. I was by myself yesterday and was laughing loudly for most of the show.

"One Man, Two Guvnors" is based on the 1753 commedia del'arte comedy "The Servant of Two Masters" and it proves funny is funny no matter what century the action takes place. The play uses stock characters that depend on stupidity, ego, lust and greed to make the happenings funny. Those are traits that transcends time.

The first act is farce at its best as the playwright Richard Beane updates the classic play to make it modern and very British. Director Nicholas Hytner sets a fast pace that is exhausting for both the actors and the audience. In fact, there is no way the second act can match the first and the creators do not try. The mood changes more toward vaudeville than farce in act two which is not as frenetic but still very funny.

Truth is the end is welcome as three hours laughter is tiring fun.

"One Man, Two Guvnors" continues at the Spectrum tonight and next Sunday afternoon and Monday evening. NT Live is also available at other venues throughout the region. A disclaimer: the shows at the Spectrum are not broadcast live, the actually show happened last month. It is just as funny.