Arts Beat 8-14-13
New York Musical Theater Festival
The Broadway season may be over, but that doesn’t mean there are no exciting theater prospects to be seen. There has been a plethora of summer theater festivals all competing for an audience – far too much competition that allows the theatergoer to catch only a taste of the many offerings. The Lincoln Center Festival, Antefest, The New York International Fringe Festival, The Samuel French Play Festival, East to Edinburgh, the Summer Play Festival, the Midtown International Theatre Festival, and The New York Musical Theater Festival are presenting a slew of showcases of promising new works, for an audience of potential producers, industry insiders and musical aficionados.
Known as NYMF, The New York Musical Theater Festival – now in its 10th season is the launching pad for the new generation of musicals, providing an environment for artists to create without any setbacks. More than 350 shows have premiered at the festival since its inception in 2004. Many productions have gone on to successful Off-Broadway runs, while other productions have even gone on to Broadway, like Next to Normal and last season’s Chaplin.
As most of the shows only have 5 performances during the three-week-long extravaganza, and press is not allowed access to the first show, there was no way to schedule seeing all 24 full productions plus the other readings, special events and concerts. Having greatly enjoyed Cabaret Grimm last year, I was looking forward to seeing the same creators new work Icarus – based on ; unfortunately the show could not be scheduled in, so I could see Castle Walk.
They may have been famous before your time, but any theater/dance/film buff knows the names of Vernon and Irene Castle. An internationally celebrated dancing couple in the 1900’s, they were the original Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Adding a sense of spontaneity to formal ballroom dancing, they appeared in several vaudeville acts and silent films, ran a dance school, and owned two nightclubs in New York City. They originated several dances, including the “One-Step” and the “Turkey Trot” and popularized such dances as the “Glide,” “Hesitation Waltz,” “Maxixe,” “Tango,” “Bunny Hug,” “Castle Polka,” and the “Castle Walk.” After Vernon was killed in an aviation accident while training cadets to pilot planes during World War I, Irene wrote My Husband (1919) and in 1958 Irene published Castles in the Air.
Set in 1938 Hollywood, 1938, Castle Walk – named after the signature dance of the couple is a behind-the-scenes/flashback scenario about the making of the film The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the lead roles. Irene Castle was brought in an advisor, but here advice to truthfully tell her and her late husband’s story was overlooked. She constantly disagreed with the director as to details of costuming and liberties taken. When informed that white actor Walter Brennan was to play the part of faithful servant Walter, she was dumbfounded; the real Walter was black.
I had high hopes for this show – the concept is great, but the material – mostly the songs are not. With an air of authentic period tunes, Milton Granger’s music and lyrics do not ignite the imagination and are unmemorable. There are a couple of exceptions such as “She Dances like an Angel.”
The format in which the show begins does not carry through and Granger’s book needs some restructuring. There is a nice interactive dance commentary throughout. Understandably in this workshop production, the choreography is rudimentary and not fully realized. The costumes by Loren Shaw are stunning.
Lynne Winterstellar is stellar as the mature Irene. The music does not complement her range, but she provides the anchor and focus to the storyline and is touching in her portrayal.
Brett Shuford plays Vernon with multi-dimensional charm, and young Irene (Stephanie Rothenberg) is his match. The most poignant scenes are when director Director-Choreographer Richard Stafford stages interaction between the older dancer and her husband, and later with her former self.
The Awakening of Angel Deluna
Set in the circus and featuring circus skills, The Awakening of Angel Deluna – directed by West Hyler is a humble spectacle with heart. Stunningly poetic and appropriate aerial choreography by Tanya Gagne and a superb clown number by Kate Griffler enhance the clear storyline. The book by Judylynn Schmidt, music by Lee Ellis and lyrics by both provide the impetus to tell a touching loving story with characters an audience can care about. Consideration may be taken to trim down some of the characters that cloud the center of the plot and some of the lyrics need to be reworked.
A trapeze star slips from the arms of her partner/lover and as he runs away from the family circus, she heals and maintains a family legacy as she lives through an old carousel. Michael Thomas Holmes as the lover returning many years later in the disguise of a Hobo Clown was brilliant with a star quality to his work. Patty Nieman evoked a dreamy delusionary world-weary vision as the adult aerialist Angelina, and Matt Baker and Tanya Gagne were truly amazing as the younger trapeze artists.
The Pirates of Finance
Love, money, dastardly deeds, trickery, treachery, and reconciliation – Wall Street meets classic Gilbert & Sullivan in The Pirate of Finance – a topsy-turvy twist using the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan with a book and new lyrics by Charles Veley and directed by Gary Slavin.
Performance and talent standards were high with a smooth standard storyline. It was an interesting adaptation with flawed moments, moments of success, and complicated financial linguistics.
Grande Broadway – Paulo Szot
New York fell in love with Brazilian-born Polish baritone Paulo Szot when he played suave Emile de Becque in the Broadway revival of South Pacific back in 2008, and the theater community bestowed him with a Tony Award. He has since been a staple on the roster of guest artists at the Metropolitan Opera. Recently for 6 performances Szot appeared at the swanky Cabaret club 54 Below singing Broadway show tunes and grande standards in operatic voice where he reprised “This Nearly Was Mine” from the show that brought him into the public’s eye. New York Times writer Tim Murphy said his “voice evoked the world’s finest dark-chocolate pudding.”
Electro-Pop Opera Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 by Dave Malloy dramatizes a slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The young cast – directed by Rachel Chavkin brings the 19th-century Russian aristocrats to new life in a cabaret setting at Kazino, a specially built pop-up Russian supper club in the meat packing district – West 13th St. at Washington St. in the West Village. Through September 1; 866.811.4111,www.thegreatcometof1812.com
2013 Kingston Film Festival
Seven featured presentations along with shorts will run at the Kingston Film Festival through August 11. The festival will highlight music along with cinema at this year’s offerings. For more information: www.kingstonfilmfestival.org.
Dozynki Festival News
• Buffalo, NY – Corpus Christi Church – August 16, 17 and 18. Polish food, music and drink. Festival highlights include the 6th Annual Buffalo’s Best Pierogi Contest on Saturday, heritage vendors and the Harvest Mass on Sunday, featuring polka and folk music. www.dozynki.corpuschristibuffalo.org
• Schenectady, NY – Church of St. Adalbert, 550 Lansing St., Crane Street Hill – August 17-18. Vigil Mass, Harvest Mass, food, dancing, craft fair. (518) 421-9375.
• Stamford, CT – Holy Name of Jesus Church grounds, 369 Washington Blvd. – August 17-18. Holy Mass, Polish Kitchen, Disco dancing to the music of Chrysalis..Info: 203-323-4967
• New Britain, CT – Falcon Field, Farmington Ave. – August 17-18. (860) 798-1048; (860) 827-8231
• Grand Rapids, MI – Polish Heritage Society, downtown Rosa Parks Circle – August 23-25. An American version of Dozynki: cooking demonstrations, cultural and historical booth, non-stop music, costumes, Polish food and merchandise; Polish Citizen of the Year; Busia Queen contest; Polish Twister where you will be able to learn the colors in the Polish language; www.polishheritagesociety.com; (616) 437-6031
• Bristol, CT – St. Stan’s Church Hall, 510 West St. – September 7-8. Festival Masses with the Polonia Paderewski Choir. Rides and games for children; homemade Polish food as well American food; music and dancing; performances by children’s Polish folk dance groups; www.mfea.org/event/dozynki-polish-festival (860) 583-4242
• Houston, TX – Our Lady of Czestochowa Catholic Church, 1731 Blalock Road – September 20, 21, and 22. Activities for the children, Arts, Crafts and Gift Booths, Bier Garden, Live Music and Dance, Polish Food, Silent Auction. All Proceeds will benefit the Pope John Paul II parish hall.
• Yorba Linda, CA – Pope John Paul II Polish Center, 3999 Rose Drive. – September 21. Special performance by Mietek Szczesniak; sponsored by Polam Federal Credit Union; www.polishcenter.org./Dozynki2013
• Stevens Point, WI – September 21-22. Hayrides, farmers market, Polish crafts & demonstrations, arts & crafts vendors, pumpkin painting, food, refreshments and entertainment, traditional Polish dinner; 715-343-5356
…and other Polish Festivals:
• 33nd Annual Polish American Day – Pope John Paul II Polish Center, 3999 Rose Drive, Yorba Linda, CA – August 4. Bob Patocka Orchestra, Polish food by Teresa Turek Catering; www.pna-znp.org, 951 808-9580
• Youngstown’s Polish Heritage Days – Saxon Club in Youngstown, OH – August 23-25. Taste of Poland Lunches, Polish Day and Zabawa – a raucous evening full of food, music and fun with gigantic pierogi buffet, entertainment by two bands, a Pierogi Eating Contest and the Mr. PieroGuy Competition; www.polishyoungstown.com
• 5th Annual Polish Pierogi Festival – St. Margueritte d’Youville Church Parish Hall, 85 Gloster Rd Lawrenceville GA – August 24. Sponsored by the Polish Catholic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Atlanta; www.pcaaa.org
• The Annual Polish Festival in Los Angeles – Our Lady of the Bright Mount Polish Parish, 3424 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA – September 29. www.polskaparafiala.org/festival
Greenpoint Starbucks Gallery
Through August 25, the Starbucks Gallery – 910 Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint-Brooklyn, NY will open an exhibition of paintings of Piotr Strelnik and Piotr Betlej entitled “Two Souls from Paris.” The artists met on the streets of Paris and come from painting careers in Poland. Their images contrast in form of expression, technique and visual sound.