Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Broadway Buzz: Great Broadway Reads

Some of the best known shows in Broadway history started as great books, and this winter you can read Broadway favorites from the comfort of your favorite living room chair. Sadly there isn’t enough time to read them all, but a few must-read classics are definitely making my reading list this winter.
“Les Misérables” Based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Misérables features the popular song “I Dreamed a Dream.” It appeared on “Glee” last season, shined in the limelight during Susan Boyle’s 2009 audition and has been covered by others like Neil Diamond and Aretha Franklin. Did you know the song was from the Broadway musical Les Misérables? Set in nineteenth-century France, the story follows characters, such as Jean Valjean, Fantine and Cosette, as they struggle for redemption and revolution. The musical premiered on Broadway in March 1987 and had a successful stay until May 2003. The show is currently touring a brand new 25th anniversary production, with new staging and reimagined scenery based on paintings by Victor Hugo himself.
“Dracula” Before “Twilight,” “True Blood” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a different vampire was taking our breath away. The 1897 novel by Bram Stoker took its first bite into Broadway in 1927 and has seen many different stages and screens since 1897. Dracula is currently casting its shadow off-Broadway with Italian Michel Altieri debuting as Dracula, opposite Sweeney Todd star George Hearn as vampire-hunter Van Helsing. Who would have guessed that the over 100 year old novel would fit so well into today’s pop culture? It’s really a story to sink your teeth into.
“Little Women” The Fox Cities P.A.C. hosted Louisa May Alcott’s classic story Little Women in February 2006, a show that first premiered on Broadway in 1912! The timeless stories of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March are entertaining, endearing and opened my eyes to how life could be like with three sisters. Think you already know this one by heart? Take the Sparknotes quiz and see how well your memory serves you. Maybe you’ll need to dust off your copy for a little winter reading.
I won’t have enough snowy days to read all of the literature that inspired Broadway shows, which ones will you add to your list?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Hours at the Fox Cities P.A.C.

Ticket Office: 
December 23: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
December 24 – 26: Closed
December 27 – 30: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
December 31: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
January 1 – 2: Closed

Administrative Office:
December 23 – 24: Closed
December 31: Closed

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cirque Dreams Illumination: Wow!

A few years ago I was given the opportunity to go down to Milwaukee to see another Cirque production and turned it down. I now realize what a mistake that was. The performance of Cirque Dreams Illumination at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center was outstanding! The amount of talent and choreography involved was awe-inspiring and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire performance.

I caught myself with my mouth wide-open and hands over my eyes constantly throughout the show. I was in awe, and many times fear, of what the performers were able to do. The creativity of the setting of scenes and characters flowed flawlessly together. The occasional bit of humor was a great touch to the performance as it let me take a deep breath after witnessing a daring stunt.

My favorite parts of the show included the Sailor’s balancing act and the four gymnasts’ amazing show of flexibility and strength. Balancing on numerous stacked chairs while being upside down on one hand was incredible. I thought over and over that he was going to fall but obviously, he never did. The gymnasts’ performance was indescribable. I can’t even imagine how they learned to balance 10 feet in the air, with their head while holding another person on their feet! It just amazes me.

Cirque Dreams Illumination is definitely a must-see. This jaw-dropping performance will keep anyone entertained and can really change your perception of what humans are capable of.

Rankin File: ** Cirque Dreams Illumination

The Fox Cities P.A.C. featured Cirque Dreams Illumination this weekend with the billing that the ordinary would be transformed into the extraordinary. There is nothing ordinary about the skill of the company’s participants including a wirewalker, magician, cube aerialists chair climber, people hanging by their feet, a strap flyer, hand balancers, dancers, vaudevillian, all accompanied by a saxophonist and singer.

The performances; “Drenched” (the bathtub scene) with the strap flyer & dancer as well as the performance “Daily Trash & Grind” with shredded waist paper clothed hand balancers, delivered the promise of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Although all the performances were extraordinary in skill the premise of transforming everyday life into something extraordinary didn’t really come across in most other cases. This was after all the kind of entertainment that has been around for hundreds of years and whose emphasis was on the skill of the performers and not the atmosphere in which it is performed. The entire show with the exception of the vignette that included people in the audience was accompanied by music that was in the vain that could best be described as a cross between hip hop, burlesque and the stuff that would accompany the dish twirlers during the Ed Sullivan show 50 years ago, and always a bit too loud.

Cirque Dreams Illumination - A Review

Walking back to my car after the show I couldn’t help but think about how incredibly inflexible I truly am, and completely devoid of anything that even remotely resembles acrobatic ability. Good grief!

Trying to describe Cirque Dreams Illumination makes me feel like the introduction to the old Superman show… “Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No, it’s Superman!” Except now it’s… “Look up on the stage! It’s a concert! No, it’s PT Barnum! No, it’s Swan Lake! No, it’s Cirque Dreams Illumination!”

The talent of the Cirque Dreams Illumination performers is nothing short of amazing… and I do not use that word lightly. With a well-orchestrated mix of rock concert, ballet, and circus  (including the sideshows… the contortionists are just mind boggling), the performers run, jump, dance, tumble, climb, fly, flip, and more, across the stage in a manner that my eyes did, in fact see, but my brain tells me just isn’t possible.
The music is lively – deftly moving in and out of pop, jazz, ballroom and more. But, occasionally the music, which is quite loud, seems to drown out singer Onyie Nwachukwu – which is a shame because she has a great voice.

The costumes are vibrant and just as alive as the music. And, in some instances, are so much a part of the performance, it’s difficult to tell where they end and scenery/performer begins.
At times there seems to be almost too much going on. With several “acts” happening simultaneously, it’s occasionally difficult to know where the audience’s attention is supposed to be focused. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. All I know is I tried to keep focus on the whole stage at all times... I didn't want miss anything.

On the whole the show was, again, amazing. I can’t fathom the levels of balance, strength, and practice required to do what the cast of Cirque Dreams Illumination does. Countless times I turned to my wife just to say, “Wow.” Others sitting around me did the same thing.
I highly recommend this show to anyone: child or adult. The show is fun, whimsical, and impressive on so many levels. If you get chance, go see it. You’ll enjoy it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Saturday, Come Early for Cirque Dreams Illumination Activities

Appleton Papers Inc. Community Engagement Activities provide audiences and community members with an in-depth look at the performing arts. Interwoven with performances in the M&I Bank Broadway Across America – Fox Cities, Boldt Arts Alive! and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Education Series, the activities educate the beginner and engage the arts enthusiast.

On Saturday, December 18, ticket holders for the 2:00 p.m. matinee performance are invited to be part of a FREE preshow activity for the family before Cirque Dreams Illumination. Students from the Heart of the Valley Y will be showcasing their gymnastic talents and hosting fun activities for the kids starting at 1:00 p.m. in the Kimberly-Clark Theater. Plus, kids can take part in coloring activities and face painting too!

Visit foxcitiespac.com for more details about the Appleton Papers Inc. Community Engagement Activity!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Do They Find Cirque Stars?

Cirque Dreams Illuminationwill be raising some questions this weekend at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. You will at times be caught speechless by the extraordinary acts, but you should also expect to hear the occasional “Wow,” “Oh my gosh!” and “How do they do that?” One other question you’ll probably find yourself asking is, “Where do they find these people?” 

While the idea of running off to join the circus may be more of a casual throwback to the past for most, circus traditions live on throughout the world. Many of the performers in Cirque Dreams Illumination carry on family traditions, learning their skills from generations of circus performers. Several of the performers you’ll see have traveled from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Uzbekistan where they studied at schools like The Mongolian School of Contortion, The Russian State College for Variety Arts and the Republic College of Olympic Reserve. Curious what they study? Check out the Ecole National de Cirque in Montreal.

One of Cirque Dreams Illumination’s performers you may recognize from your living room. Robert Muraine gained national attention showing off his L.A. style popping on FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and a national IKEA ad campaign titled “What Goes Where.” Having gotten his start as a street performer, Muraine adds another unique layer to Cirque Dreams Illumination, where the artistic interpretation of the big top meets the stage. 

Do you have a unique talent that’s Cirque-worthy?Enter the Fox Cities P.A.C. Sideshow on Facebook! We can’t promise a career under the big top, but your talent could get you two tickets to Cirque DreamsIllumination on Saturday, December 18 at 2:00 p.m. Upload a pic of your talent to the Center's Facebook page by 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 15 for your chance to win!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prepping for Cirque Dreams Illumination

Cirque Dreams Illumination will be making its way to the Fox Cities this week, bringing with it 26 performers and world-class athletes. In preparation, we’ll be doing some major grocery shopping because according to Neil Goldberg, the artistic director and creator of Cirque Dreams, "They eat constantly!" 

According to Goldberg, each two-hour Cirque Dreams performance requires the same stamina as an NBA basketball game or NFL football game. "On the average, a performer can lose up to five pounds per show,” said Goldberg. 

Have the performers of Cirque Dreams discovered a magical formula that we don't know about? While on tour, the cast will eat an average of four meals per day including breakfast, lunch, a preshow dinner and a postshow dinner.

So what does the grocery list look like for a week in the life of Cirque Dreams Illumination?
• 50 pounds of celery 
• 50 pounds of tomatoes 
• 50 pounds of spinach 
• 50 pounds of carrots 
• 500 heads of lettuce 
• 500 pounds of assorted fruits 
• 2,000 gallons of bottled water 
• 500 protein bars 
• 100 pounds of chicken 
• 100 pounds ground beef 
• 800 slices of bread 

Seeing as this is Wisconsin, we may try to sneak in a few cheese curds and brats for their official welcome to the Fox Cities. Are there other Wisconsin favorites we should recommend?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rankin File: *** Handel's Messiah

Occasionally we pack too much into our hectic schedules, but no schedule is too hectic for the 200-year tradition of celebrating the holiday season with Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus. No wee snowstorm would deter us. The Fox Cities P.A.C. filled fast with people dressed more for the weather than the occasion. Although from my seat it looked like a sell out, there were a few empty seats here and there, a result of the blizzard conditions outside. But inside there were nothing but smiles and laughter in anticipation of the performance.

Handel’s Messiah is an old friend for most of the audience. Many have attended the oratorio many times in their life and every time a joy. The libretto is based on the familiar New and Old Testaments of the Bible and describes the prophecy of, the sacrifice, and the promise of the Messiah. While the winds coursed their way down College Avenue, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center was warmed by the performances of Tenor Dan Dresden’s energy, contralto Lisa Drew’s velvetoss, baritone Aaron Larson’s clarity, and soprano Maria Jette’s sparkling delicacy. Austin Boncher’s Fox Cities Community Choir was the corner stone this night and each participant’s enthusiasm was apparent. All was accompanied by our community’s pride and joy, Brian Groner and the Fox Valley Symphony.

There was of course an encore in which the audience was given the chance to join in the celebration of music and sing the “Hallelujah” chorus along with the orchestra and community choir. Hearts were warmed and the ride home would be filled with the memory of the beauty of Handel’s Messiah as well as the community sprit that made it happen again here in Appleton.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Stage is Set for Handel’s Messiah

Nearly 200 people will be taking to the stage at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center tomorrow night for a community performance of Handel’s Messiah. After years of planning and months of rehearsals, the Center is honored to welcome in the season with this classic holiday performance.

Please join us in celebrating the holidays and the depth of artistic talent found right here in the Fox Cities. Seats are still available and start at only $25. Visit foxcitiespac.com for details!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Broadway Buzz: Holiday Traditions

What is your favorite way to spend free time around the holidays? If you’re anything like me, your favorite place is in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket watching a classic holiday movie. Did you know that five of the six most popular holiday movies from moviefone.com’s 2009 list have spent time on the Broadway stage?
# 6 "Elf:" The 2003 comedy starring Will Ferrell is one of my personal favorites that I will watch year round when I’m in the mood for a little cheering up. Did you know that “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear?” Elf the musical has been spreading Christmas cheer for the past couple weeks on Broadway and will continue until January 2, 2011. Click here for a quick peek of the cheer being spread onstage!
# 5 "White Christmas:" Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye made this 1954 film a classic. What makes it even better is that Bing Crosby’s character plays a former Broadway entertainer. The musical production premiered onstage in San Francisco in 2004 and made its way to Broadway during the 2008 holiday season. Did you see White Christmas when it was at the Fox Cities P.A.C. in November 2007?
# 4 "Scrooged:" Even though “Scrooged” hasn’t made it to the Broadway stage, the theatrical classic A Christmas Carol has spent time on the Great White Way. The show had a brief run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in December 1991. With over a hundred adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic listed on Wikipedia, it’s easy to fit at least one into your holiday season. My favorite version? Definitely “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” It’s a cartoon musical portrayed onstage and runs less than an hour. The Fox Cities P.A.C. has been proud to host Nebraska Theatre Caravan's A Christmas Carol. What a great show to get the Fox Cities in the holiday spirit!
# 3 "Miracle on 34th Street:" For the third year running Miracle on 34th Street has returned to Broadway for the holiday season. The story’s message of hope and believing in something magical is so endearing and always makes me remember the magic of the holiday season.
# 2 "It’s a Wonderful Life:" There is no doubt that the 1946 Frank Capra film is a part of many family holiday traditions. The show was turned into a musical, A Wonderful Life, and only played on Broadway as a singular event December 12, 2005. Did you know when the film was released in 1946 it was a box office flop? Read more fun facts about the film here.
#1 "A Christmas Story:" It’s hard to skip a holiday tradition that plays 24 hours straight on television. As many times as I have seen it, it’s hard to not laugh at the pink bunny suit or cringe when Flick’s tongue gets stuck to the pole in the school yard. As the #1 holiday movie, it’s natural that “A Christmas Story” is working its way to the Broadway stage. The show premiered at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2009 and will spend this holiday season at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre (home to premieres of the Broadway hits HairsprayThe Wedding SingerShrek: the Musical and more).  Break a leg A Christmas Story - maybe we'll see you in the bright lights of Broadway one of these years.
Do you have any favorite stage productions or arts events that you won’t miss during the holidays? Tell us how the arts help your holiday season come alive!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Catch a Sneak-Peek of Handel's Messiah

This week the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center will be putting the finishing touches on its first community production of Handel’s Messiah in preparation for the performance on Saturday, December 11 at 7:30 p.m. Drawing talent and enthusiasm from throughout the Fox Cities, the Center will be uniting the Fox Valley Symphony with a 150 person community chorus and four talented soloists from the Twin Cities under the artistic direction of Brian Groner. 

For months, the community chorus has been rehearsing under the guidance of Austin Boncher. On Tuesday, we snuck in with our flip cam to give you a sneak peek. Click below to watch as Handel’s Messiah comes together voice by voice.

Tickets start at just $25 and are on sale now for Handel’s MessiahClick here for more details!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beware of Third Party Ticket Brokers!

As the calendar flips closer to 2011 and WICKED’s return engagement at the Fox Cities P.A.C. January 26 – February 20, there’s something third party ticket brokers don’t want you to know. The Fox Cities P.A.C. and Ticketmaster have the tickets you want and are the only authorized sellers for WICKED in the Fox Cities. Plus, tickets are still available for all shows! 

Top Three Reasons To Avoid Third Party Tickets
Brokers make no guarantees, and the Fox Cities P.A.C. can do nothing if your tickets are lost or stolen if you purchase them from a third party. Brokers have even been known to sell fake tickets. When you buy them through the Fox Cities P.A.C. Ticket Office or Ticketmaster, the Center has a record of your purchase. 

Brokers know when tickets are a hot commodity, and they’ll hike the price to make a profit. It’s not uncommon for brokers to charge double or even triple the face value of a ticket as the event approaches. 

What if there’s a special opportunity for WICKED ticket holders or an update regarding your ticket? If you purchase your tickets through the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center or Ticketmaster, you’ll be in the loop for any updates regarding your tickets. Keep your e-mail address and phone number up to date for the latest information!

Visit foxcitiespac.com for details, and purchase your tickets to WICKED today before you get swept up in the holidays!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just Released! Read the Fox Cities P.A.C.'s 2009/10 Annual Report Online

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is proud to share its 2009/10 Annual Report to the Community. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Center is driven by its mission “to serve as a gathering place for the community to engage in educational opportunities and enhance understanding and enjoyment of life through the creation and presentation of the arts.” 

This year’s Annual Report recaps some of the 2009/10 Season highlights including the Broadway classics Fiddler on the Roof starring Theodore Bikel and RENT with Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp from the original cast, the music of Mannheim Steamroller, the Japanese Taiko drumming group Shidara and the hip-hop sensation Groovaloo, fresh from its off-Broadway engagement. The report also takes a closer look at how the Center seeks to educate the beginner and engage the arts enthusiast with Appleton Papers Inc. Community Engagement Activities.

Fun Facts About the 2009/10 Season:• The Center held 311 events at the Fox Cities P.A.C last year
• The Center presented 37 titles in the M&I Bank Broadway Across America – Fox Cities, Boldt Arts Alive! and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Education Series
• The Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Education Series welcomed 24,591 students in grades preK-12
• The Center hosted at least one Appleton Papers Inc. Community Engagement Activity with 88 percent of the titles it presented last season
• The Center’s mission was made possible with generous contributions from more than 750 business and individual Annual Partners

CLICK HERE to read the full 2009/10 Annual Report online!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for Your Support

On the eve of Thanksgiving, the Fox Cities P.A.C. would like to say “THANK YOU” to the people of the Fox Cities and Northeast Wisconsin. As ticket buyers, Season Ticket Holders, donors, partner organizations and community members, your interest and enthusiasm for the performing arts makes the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center – Where the Arts Come Alive!

Broadway Stars Shine in the Macy's Parade

Need something to do tomorrow before you eat that entire turkey? Don’t miss the Broadway casts of MemphisElfAmerican Idiot  and Million Dollar Quartet  tomorrow when they’re featured in the 84th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Watch the parade on NBC Thanksgiving morning from 9 a.m. to noon.
Check back after Thanksgiving for December’s Broadway Buzz!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jersey Boys On Sale This Saturday!

How did four blue-collar kids become one of the greatest successes in pop music history?

“You ask four guys, you get four different answers.”
– Jersey Boys
One of the hottest shows to hit Broadway in a generation,Jersey Boys follows the rise and overwhelming success of four blue-collar boys from Newark as they become Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Whether you grew up with their music or just love a great rags-to-riches story, you’ll won’t want to miss this show. It’s just “too good to be true!”
Earlier this month, Jersey Boys celebrated its Fifth Anniversary on Broadway and released a new video with more footage from the show! CLICK HERE to see for yourself!
Tickets to the Wisconsin premiere of Jersey Boys go on sale this Saturday, November 20 at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Priority tickets will be available starting at 8:00 a.m. in person at the Center’s ticket office. Be amongst the first 100 ticket buyers, and you’ll receive a special Jersey Boys gift bag! While you wait, enjoy games with great Jersey Boys prizes, coffee and Jersey-inspired refreshments and entertainment with WYDR’s Chuck Lakefield broadcasting live from the Fox Cities P.A.C.
Can’t make it to the Appleton on Saturday? Tickets for Jersey Boys can be purchased by phone through Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787 or online at foxcitiespac.com starting at 12:00 p.m. Remember, there’s an 8 ticket limit per household, and if you have a big group (20+) you can order before the onsale event by calling (920) 730-3760. Tickets for Jersey Boys start at $61.
For more information, visit foxcitiespac.com!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Community Review - A Chorus Line

"I hope I get it."  That's the title of the first song in A Chorus LIne which all the wannabe chorus line members are singing.  Unfortunately, I never quite got it.  I wanted to get.  I almost got it.  Then it was gone.  I just didn't get the point.

As a preface to this review, I'm a story man.  I like drama, and interesting characters that add to the drama.  Throw in good songs and some laughs and I'm in heaven.  So liking a show like A Chorus Line that has almost no plot is fighting an uphill battle for me.  That said, there are some things about this production that are more objectively good and bad.

First the bad.  The orchestra was so loud that I couldn't catch half the lyrics.  Because of this, I couldn't tell half of what was going on in the first half of the show.  I'd have said first act, but for some reason there was no intermission, even though the show was over two hours.  The audience started getting very antsy towards the end.  

The first half wasn't all bad however.  A couple of very cute songs - "Sing!", and "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three" brought smiles to my face, and the actors involved in them seemed to be having fun as well.

And then of course there's the dancing.  At it's core, A Chorus Line is all about the dancing, and in that aspect this production doesn't disappoint.  My favorite moments were the on-purpose little screw-ups from those characters who do not make the final cut.  They were just obvious enough to notice, but not over the top (except in a few choice cases).  Finding them was kind of like a Where's Waldo game.

Anyway, the show kicks into high gear when most of the auditioners take a break, and the director's ex is left alone to explain why she's auditioning for a chorus role that the director believes is beneath her.  The resulting song was powerfully song and passionately danced.  It really got across the pain of a tired-of-the-game dancer who is just trying to start over.

It also sets up the big question for the end: "Why do you dance?"  Here is where I almost got it.  There was a moment of magic in the air when you realize that through all the diverse paths these actors took to get where they are, they all dance because they love it.  And then they sing a song about that... and the song made me bored.  This was about when I noticed people fidgeting.

For the right crowd, this is an enjoyable show.  It really gets at why dancers love to dance, and the dancing in the show is spectacular.  However, if you're looking for sets, costumes, or a story - splurge on some good tickets for Wicked instead.

REVIEW: A Chorus Line

If you are looking for a show that has glitzy costumes and fancy set designs this is not the show for you. It takes place on a black stage with a few mirrors used. Once you get past the lack of bling you get involved in the lives of the actors and their stories. I promise you, you will relate to at least of of the characters. I related to the one born on July 4th (like me). 

The talk about broken homes, difficult childhoods, the energy and excitement of being young, the wisdom and experience of not being young, the pursuit of your first job and the uncertaintly of your career coming to a end. They sing about the tough teenage years and add humor to the struggles we all had at that time in our lives.

They also posed the question that if you couldn't do the job that you are doing right now . . . what would you be doing? So what's your answer? It sure made me think.

I encourage your feedback and check back for my review of Wicked.  If you haven't gotten your tickets call the ticket office today.


REVIEW: A Chorus Line - Dance: 10, Song: 3

The year is 1975, and 17 dancers are competing for spots in a fictional Broadway show. Attending A Chorus Line involves watching the somewhat sadistic director, Zach, ask probing questions of these potential cast members' pasts in an effort to learn what drives them to want to dance on Broadway. Michael Bennet (whose authorship of the musical is somewhat controversial) taped a series of workshops and interviews with New York dancers to form what would eventually become the script for the Broadway show. Director and choreographer Baaylork Lee, a dancer whose story would become the basis for the character Connie, was quoted in the Post Crescent: "Michael Bennett had all these Broadway dancers talk about themselves and out of these taped sessions came the script for the play. I was playing myself on stage and so were half the other actors. This is the third generation sharing our stories and still being inspired by our experiences."

This intimate look into the pasts of these dancers is why Lee calls this musical "America's first reality show."

The first thing that needs to be understood about A Chorus Line is that it is a dancer's show. Visually, this show was a joy to watch. Every character moved with grace, power, and beauty. I imagine a major challenge that individual members of the cast faced was meeting the need to actually dance poorly or incorrectly when the script called for it. The chaotic and energetic opening of "I Hope I Get It" looked fantastic, and really showed off the abilities of the company. The upstage mirror that periodically appeared only augmented the beauty and strength of this athletic and talented group. Although my experience with dance is incredibly limited, Netanel Bellaishe, who played Larry, stood out to me as one of the best dancers I have ever seen.

While the dance and choreography was great, at times the singing was quite weak. Ensemble numbers were not as well supported as one would expect from a national touring company, and a few of the solo performances were not up to par. This was not helped by the fact that sound levels were sometimes balanced poorly. The pit was often set much too high, and frequently drowned out solo performances. There were some notable exceptions to this, however. Rylyn Juliano, who played Cassie, was more than able to pull off the daunting "Music and the Mirror" number quite well. Also, Karley Willocks, who played the smaller role of Maggie, stood out to me as one of the most talented and beautiful members of the cast. She is clearly an example of the term "triple threat," and I predict that this will not be the last time I hear her name. I enjoyed the plucky and energetic Gina Duci's performance of "Nothing," although I was not blown away by "What I Did for Love" near the end. Kristine and Al were very cute together, and Bobby's character was convincing.

Although I was not blown away by this performance, I certainly did enjoy it, and believe it is worth seeing. There are some really great moments, and this is early in the tour. I believe the quality will only improve as the run continues. I recommend attending this show to watch some incredible dancers perform their craft.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Community Review: Ailey II

It is pretty shameful how little experience I have with dance.  My entire life has been filled with music, and never have I had any sort of training, formal or informal, with regard to dance.  This is how I entered the Fox Cities P.A.C. on Thursday night to see Ailey II.  Ailey II is a world-renowned dance company that was founded in 1958 by dancer, choreographer Alvin Ailey, to bring African-American cultural expression and the American modern dance tradition to the world.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  

The first segment of the performance was a piece entitled "Echoes," written in 2008.  I was immediately struck with how graceful, ethereal, and fluid the performers were.  All 12 of them danced in this intricate, powerful, and mesmerizing segment.  For a short time, I found myself trying to understand or grasp the artistic elements, but having no experience to draw from, I quickly let go and just enjoyed the stunning and inspiring movement.  It really is amazing how easy these dancers make their craft look, but the sweat pouring from all 12 faces after 25 minutes of movement spoke to the effort and power required of performers of this caliber.

A series of solo performances followed that were no less beautiful.  In fact, it was sometimes easier for my ignorant and untrained eye to watch one performer, because I actually felt I was able to focus more on the movements and expression of a single dancer.  

Although the final third of the performance was a series of short pieces set to choral gospel music, I did not enjoy them as much as the more ethereal and abstract pieces from the first part of the show.  As a vocal musician, I found my attention wandering to the choral singing.  I am quite sure that this particular reaction was most likely limited to people with my particular background, however.

In short, I could not have asked for a better introduction to the world of dance than this performance gave me.  It is hard to comprehend a more artistic, expressive, stunning, or powerful portrayal of human movement than was delivered by Ailey II.

Ailey II Striking

The experience that I live last night with Ailey ll was stunning! Using a very pleasing choreography, the dancers were shown to good effect both as a group and as individuals. The dancers were so remarkable. I was amused at their synchronize movements as well as their physical stamina.
In addition to the pop influenced pieces, there were sections that were very balletic and jazzy. The dancers transmitted to you a desire to move and energize your bodies, with their endless vigor.  Some of the dances, through the use of light, hand movements and costumes, transmitted a calm, peaceful and gracious environment. On the other hand, the colorful costumes and bright lights of Revelations with traditional spiritual songs of the American South reached out and touched the hearts of the audience. The dancers truly brought the music to life and transported you back in time, leaving the audience standing in complete ovation.

Ailey II is a wonderful vehicle for dance bringing a whole new language to life. I took my 10 year old daughter with me and she was captivated and inspired by the talents of such hard working dancers.
 We left the theater thrilled!

Rankin File: ***** AILEY II

Thursday November 4th 2010 was a very special evening at the Fox Cities P.A.C.  Modern Dance performed as well as AILEY II doesn’t make its way to the Fox Valley often enough.  The audience was excited to have the chance to experience the dance and by the end of the evening they were literally rocking out of their seats and souls.
The extreme physicality of the dance was apparent by the substitutions made to the program due to injury in the company.  Football players are not the only ones sidelined with injuries.  The dances entitled Takademe and Doscongio were the dances substituted and were very well received.  I particularly enjoyed Takademe with it’s staccatos/music by Sheila Chandra.
The choreography by Thang Dao in the dance Echoes was by far my favorite. The dance was perfectly matched with the lighting and the body poetry evoked a consciousness of experience that cannot be defined.  The other dances were all excellent but Echoes was for me the most spectacular.  I believe however by the audience’s reaction the favorite might well have been the final dance of Revelations which was accompanied by traditional vocal spirituals and beautiful costumes with lighting to match.  Several curtain calls were demanded and the troupe was kind enough to give an encore even though they must have been exhausted.
Of all the forms of art human beings endeavor to create dance is the most fleeting and the most difficult to perfect.  This makes dance so very precious.  You experience dance only for the moment it is performed, and then it is gone.  You can only have a taste and then a memory. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ailey II Athletes Make Dance Look Effortless

Ailey II dancers have a reputation for physicality, but what does it really take to be onstage for two hours every night? A mixture of talent, stamina, dedication and grace for sure, and also years of training and practice.
For many Ailey II dancers, training begins at a young age. Even as high school students in The Ailey School, schedules were intensive, with students attending academic classes from 7:45 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. and classes in ballet, modern dance, West African, jazz and other techniques from 1:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Not only is that longer than a typical 40-hour work week, but that school schedule is supplemented by workshops and lectures on dance history, nutrition, anatomy, injury prevention, body conditioning, music for dancers, improvisation, career transition, college preparation and audition practice. CLICK HERE to see just one little exercise demonstrated by Ailey II dancers for DanceSpirit Magazine.
Think you could do that? I know better than to attempt a parallel arabesque, but I won’t miss the chance to see Ailey II Thursday, November 4. Visit foxcitiespac.com for details!
Want to learn more? Come early for a FREE Appleton Papers Inc. Community Engagement Activity. Associate artistic director, Troy Powell will lead a preshow discussion starting at 6:45 p.m. in the Kimberly-Clark Theater.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Broadway Buzz

There are few things that I love more than Broadway shows, and I think the fall season might be one of them. Everything from crunching leaves beneath my feet to pumpkin pies to the fresh, crisp air. I keep imagining how wonderful a trip to New York would be this time of year to see a few Broadway shows and take a stroll through Central Park. Hopefully a vacation is in my future, but until then, here’s the latest from Broadway.
    • Football fans unite! Lombardi opened October 21 in New York to adorning Green Bay Packer fans and theater-goers. Check out some great video from the show and catch the review in “The Wall Street Journal.”
    • “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” Our beloved holiday classic, “Elf,” is now a Broadway musical. The show opens November 14 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Looks like Christmas came early this year.
    • Pee-wee Herman, welcome to Broadway! The Pee-wee Herman Show opens on Broadway November 11 and has been extended an additional four weeks due to overwhelming demand. I had no idea Pee-wee’s story would be so captivating!
    • Our favorite Marvel comics’ hero Spider-Man has made his way to the stage. With music and lyrics by U2’s Bono and The Edge, it is going to be a rockin’ show. Read more at the Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark official website.
    • “Jersey Boys – the film!” Graham King’s GK Films acquired the rights to the Broadway blockbusterJersey Boys. After the musical steals our hearts in June at the Fox Cities P.A.C. we can relive the moments forever on film.
    • Lea Michele as Elphaba?! There’s more talk about WICKED possibly becoming a film. One of my favorite “Glee” stars is standing out as a possible Elphaba. Move over “The Wizard of Oz,” make room for “Wicked” on my DVD shelf!
    • Check out the latest and greatest from one of my favorite leading ladies, Kristin Chenoweth. She is still headlining in Promises, Promises on Broadway but has a lot to say in her interview about her other projects. WICKED’s original Glinda sure is “Pop-u-lar!”
I keep reading about how successful Promises, Promises is on Broadway, and I can’t wait to someday see Kristin Chenoweth onstage. Which Broadway performer do you wish you could see live?
Don’t forget to keep current with your Broadway Buzz. Share any interesting news you come across until the next post!

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Sale Today - Cirque Dreams Illumination!

What exactly is Cirque Dreams illuminating at the Fox Cities P.A.C. December 18-19?
Cirque Dreams Illumination blends world-renowned imagination, critically acclaimed theatrical innovation and breathtaking presentation into a story that illuminates a city of everyday people, workers and pedestrians into feats of disbelief. It’s not specifically a holiday show, but it will leave you with a sense of awe!
Cirque Dreams Illumination features 27 world-class artists who use their unique talents to illuminate objects, balance on wires, leap structures and redefine flight with entertaining variety and a sense of comedy that reinvents everyday life. Urban acrobatics, dazzling choreography and brilliant illusions are performed to an original score of jazz, salsa, ballroom, pop and trendy beats from the streets.
Tickets for Cirque Dreams Illumination go on sale to the public today at 10:00 a.m. for four performances only. Visit foxcitiespac.com for details!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Community Review: A Night at Broadway

Last night I attended Neil Berg’s 100 Years Of Broadway, this show was fabulous from start to finish. The music, hit songs from Broadway, and the performers were excellent in every way. Neil Berg on the piano was wonderful as well as the other musicians.

If you love the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Neil Berg, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Billy Joel and so many more greats, well then, you MUST attend Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway. SO much wonderful entertainment compiled and presented by the gifted voices of Calvert, Rob Evan, Robert DuSold and the amazing Ted Levy with his magnificent Tap.

If you enjoy musicals I totally recommend this to everyone. It is fresh and energizing, and the enthusiasm of the performers would take you back to the best of the Broadway shows. I loved it!!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway

Going in, I had no idea what this show was going to be.  Probably the best way to describe "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway" is as a Broadway review, with a few personal stories and history lessons thrown in. 

Neil Berg - our host for the evening along with being producer / music director / piano player - turned out to be a lot of fun.  I enjoyed how he drew the audience in with his stories of Broadway-of-old, telling of Rodgers & Hammerstein's first collaboration, and of Lerner and Loewe trying to do what R&H couldn't.  Berg also spiced up the night with his piano, adding interesting flourishes not found in the original arrangements.  Primarily known as a composer, Berg's own piano-only piece from the upcoming Grumpy Old Men was a welcome surprise in a show focusing on singers.  Berg also put together a fantastic back-up band, especially the drummer (Roger Cohen) who I often found myself watching when I should have been paying attention to the singers.

The rest of the night was spent with five Broadway stars trading the spotlight back and forth with varying effectiveness.  Wisconsin-born Robert DuSold was adequate in his first two solos, "Stars" and "The Impossible Dream" - two songs I never realized could sound so similar.  Although later he picked up the energy and flair in "All I Care About Is Love" (which also featured Berg's hilarious one-man seated kick line).  Late-replacement Sandra Joseph may have played Christine in Phantom of the Opera for ten years, but she was having trouble with those songs last night.  Several times her high notes started on one pitch and fell to another.

Two of the other actors had more success.  Ted Levy was incredibly charming as he tap-danced his way through jazzy renditions of "My Favorite Things" and "Almost Like Being In Love".   Levy's tapping can only be compared to greats such as Gregory Hines and Gene Kelly.  Also on her game was Carter Calvert.  She was by far the most versatile actor, being a veteran of shows as varied as Cats and Forbidden Broadway.  Her haunting rendition of "Memory" was a show-stopper, and her slow, slinky "Fever" was probably the best version of that song I've seen.

As good as Calvert was though, Rob Evan was by far the star of the evening.  Evan was in the original cast of Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway, and his performance of "This is the Moment" from that show was utterly fantastic.  Turns out he was just getting warmed up.  You see, Evan was also the youngest-ever to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway, and his performance of "Bring Him Home" from that show brought a tear to my eye, which almost never happens.  His second-act opener, "Something's Coming," had beautiful dynamic changes and small rhythmic nuances that gave me goosebumps, and then he closed the night with two spectacular Phantom songs.  These performances alone were worth the ticket price.

Overall though, the show was uneven.  The few group numbers were mostly bland, although changing "Cell Block Tango" to feature two women, and then adding two men, was a brilliant touch.  Sound problems also put a damper on many numbers, especially the group songs.  In the end, I'm not sure Neil Berg himself had much of an idea what the show was about as a whole, but it certainly had parts that were entertaining.