Show stopper

Sugarcoating is for suckers. And this isn't a candy store.

A matchmaker is matched October 23, 2010

Hello, Dolly!, Jerry Herman’s meddling musical, opened in the Troutt Theater October 21 at 7:00 p.m. It was the first performance of the season for Studio Tenn, a theatre company based in Nashville that blends talent from Music City and Broadway to bring musical theatre to Middle Tenn.

Hello, Dolly! is a humorous story about Dolly Levi (Nan Gurley), a matchmaker who meddles in other people’s love lives while neglecting her own. She is a widow and continually prays to her deceased husband, Ephraim, asking him to let her go and be a woman again. You get a sense it’s not her husband keeping her at bay from pouncing on Horace Vandergelder (Chuck Wagner), the money bags of Yonkers. Rather, it’s her unwillingness to let her guard down.

Throughout the show, she strings Vandergelder along, distracting him with suitors as his niece, Ermengarde (Maggie McDowell) falls in love and escapes to New York City with Ambrose Kemper (Graham Keen) all with the help of Dolly, of course. While Vandergelder chases after his niece and the suitors, with Dolly in hot pursuit, his two store clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Larry Cox, Jr.) and Barnaby Tucker (Michael Mindlin) sing the toe-tapping “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and have some fun of their own in the Big Apple.

The show breaks off into two weaving stories of shenanigans. Vandergelder doesn’t like the two suitors Dolly has for him. Dolly, having no problem with being an independent woman, is ready for love as she sings “Before the Parade Passes By”. She hints and twists her words around Horace until he has no choice but to realize after she sings “So Long, Dearie” that he has no need for suitors, that a truly remarkable woman is standing right in front of him.

Cornelius finds love with Irene Malloy (Carrie Tillis), a hat maker who truthfully hates hats. They gaze into each other’s eyes during “It Only Takes a Moment”, a lovely duet that brings chills and a tear. Barnaby impressed the audience with his light-footed performance during the sweeping and swooping song, “Dancing”. He falls in love with Irene’s 17 year-old assistant, Minnie Fay (Ashley Anderson McCarthy).

There were some mess-ups, some premiere night jitters amongst the cast. During the song “Before the Parade Passes By” a gymnastic move almost turned horribly as the red curtains closed for intermission. The lighting in the beginning was spotty in some areas. There were some lines fumbled and some stumbles in the choreography.  

Chuck Wagner, known for playing the Beast in Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast, Javert in Les Miserables and Van Helsing in Dracula the musical, gave a beautiful performance opposite the wonderful Nan Gurley. His deep voice melts even the strongest, independent woman. No wonder Dolly fell so hard!

Maggie McDowell, Belmont’s very own senior musical theater major, was great as the weeping Ermangarde. She didn’t overdo the role. She had just the right sobbing without being hysterically annoying. McDowell looked right at home amongst some of the Broadway veterans.

Ben Laxton, Keith Bishop and Casey Hebbel are also Belmont students who played in the ensemble. Laxton stood out amongst the other two. Every move was strong and sure. It was apparant he was soaking up all the positive energy of opening night. They were a joy to watch and did a great job representing Belmont.

The set is simple and never-changing except for a projector screen that shows different landscapes such as a train, Vandergeld’s hay and feed store and the Harmonia Garden’s Restaurant. Where the set is somewhat dull, the costumes are exquisite and eye-catching. Dolly’s flowing dresses and feathered hats are over-the-top to fit her bursting personality.

Hello, Dolly! is a fun-filled, toe-tapping, swaying and sweeping musical. The audience laughs and sympathizes with the realities of lost love and the struggle of getting back on one’s feet. The musical shows that even the most independent of women are in want of love.


Moliere’s Tartuffe coming to Troutt September 24, 2010

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The Troutt will be draped with 17th century costumes, music and rhyming couplets. Moliere’s neo-classical play, Tartuffe, will open on October 1 at 7:30 p.m.

Tartuffe, a comedy, is about a man who takes advantage of his landlord, Orgon. Tartuffe portrays himself as a pious man when he simply wants to swindle Orgon out of the deed to his house by marrying his daughter. It is a play about religious hypocrisy and extremism, topics Brent Maddox, the director of Tartuffe, says are very relevant to today’s world.

“If you look at what’s going on in our culture, in our society, globally speaking, this play was written hundreds of years ago yet the message of religious hypocrisy or religious extremism is still prevalent today,” Maddox said.

Tartuffe was originally written in French, but Maddox is using Richard Wilbur’s, an American literary translator and poet, version because his translation preserved the rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter.  This two-hour play is big, Maddox said. From the costumes to the set, everything is over the top.

“There is nothing simple about this show,” Maddox said.

Tartuffe will be played by Zach McCann. Daniel Hackman, a Belmont alum and his wife Joann Hackman will play the married couple as Orgon and Elmire. Doreen, the servant, will be played by Christy White. Franne Lee, who has worked as a costume designer on Broadway, designed the costumes.  Liz Morison, a production design major, is the set designer while Patrick White, another production design major, designed the lighting.

“Working with the cast is the best part,” Maddox said. “They’re hard workers. They come in prepared and ready to go which is a delight for me as a director. Amongst the fun a lot of work has been getting done.”

While the play is a comedy, there have been some challenges Maddox and the actors had to face. While the play is set in Paris, the actors will speak a British dialect. Maddox decided to forgo the French accent because it’s a little more difficult to learn in a short period of time. The styling of the piece has also been a challenge. Maddox doesn’t want his actors to look like actors. He wants the play to be believable.

“You have to look like you belong in this world,” said Maddox. “You have to sound like your British. You have to sound like you speak in rhyming couplets. You have to look like you belong in 17th century. We can’t make it look like it’s fake. [The audience isn’t] looking at actors. They’re looking at characters.”

The audience should be expected to laugh at the physical humor. Maddox wants the audience to go away with the sense that they experienced a moment of fun but have been educated.

“It’s going to be a good show,” said Maddox. “It’s going to be funny, but at the same time it will expose [the audience] to a different style of theatre and perhaps a different culture than the one they’re used to.”

Tartuffe runs through October 10. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for faculty and staff. Students are free and culture and arts convo will be given.


A little preview. . . August 29, 2010

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Get ready for a plethora of playbills to hit because Belmont University’s Theater Department is in full swing getting ready for the 2010-2011 theater season, and there are additional highlights from local to international artists. For all you theater lovers and goers here’s a preview of a few things Belmont stages have to offer.

Tartuffe, written by the 17th century comedic playwright, Jean Baptiste Molière, is about an impostor who claims to be a zealous, pious man while boarding at the wealthy Orgon’s home. Instead, he’s a deceiver who tries to swindle Orgon out of the deed of his house by winning the respect of his wife and attempting to marry his daughter. Evening performances, all in Troutt Theater, are at 7:30 p.m . Oct. 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9; matinees are at  3 p.m. on Oct. 2, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 and Oct. 10.

Troutt Theater will host an entirely different production Oct. 30 when the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe offers the extravagant Japanese puppet theater known as “ningyo joruri” or bunraku. The troupe trained in Japan with artists who are part of the puppetry troupes that date back to 1684. The Asian Studies Program sponsors this event. Performance time and ticket information will be announced..

The week before Thanksgiving break will be the performance of 33 Variations in the Black Box Theater. 33 Variations is about two different stories that occur 200 years apart in two far off places: America and Austria. It is a dramatic American play written by Moisès Kaufman about what motivates someone to create. Performances are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 and 21; matinees are at 3 p.m. Nov. 13, and at 2 p.m. Nov. 14 and 20.

The Nashville Ballet will grace the Troutt Theater’s stage with their new ballet based on Anne Frank’s life story. Dr. Mark Volker, a Belmont music faculty member, composed the music. Performances will be Nov. 19-21; times and ticket information will be announced.

The Actor’s Bridge Ensemble and perform Eurydice, playwright Sarah Ruhl’s re-telling of the classic myth. The play presents the story of Orpheus, a popular Greek musician, through the eyes of his wife. The golden ticket of this play? Eurydice “will have an amazing raining elevator and water pool on the set,” said Paul Gatrell, department chair of the theatre and dance department. Evening performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, 24, 25 and 26; matinees will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 20, 26 and 27.

The Government Inspector will be on stage in the Black Box Theater in April. The Government Inspector is a satirical play written by Russian and Ukrainian playwright Nikolai Gogol about corrupt officials in a Russian town. They get into a tizzy when they hear an undercover inspector will visit to investigate them. They scramble to make their work seem decent and punishments necessary. Their attempts are interrupted when a mysterious visitor has already checked into the inn.The visitor is not an inspector but a civil servant, Khlestakov, who has a wild imagination. It should be a high-spirited and witty play, the perfect way to end the theatre season. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. April 8, 9, 14 and 15; matinees are at 2 p.m. April 9, 10, 16 and 17.

The dance department will round out the theater and dance department’s season with their annual Dance Production where students will showcase their talent and new techniques. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. April 29 and 30 and May 1.


Colorful “Butterfly” Captivates in Troutt’s Black Box April 17, 2010

A small space makes for a small play. Right?

Definitely wrong.

Well, at least not when it comes to the Troutt’s Black Box Theater. Though, the theater is considered small, the set designers know how to work the space.

So was the case for “The Butterfly” an Iranian children’s play written by Bijan Mofid. The story was simple enough. A butterfly, helplessly caught in a spider’s web in a barn, makes a deal with the black creature she will find another suitable meal for him. But along the way, as she meets the Grasshopper, Auntie Beetle and her five little ones, the Fly, Lightning Bug and Honey Bee, she realizes she can’t force them to succumb to the fate she so easily escaped. She returns to the Spider who surprises her by setting her free once again, allowing her to return to the sunlight. There is a twist to the story which leaves the audience on the edge of their seats until the stage fades to black.

Though the story was simple, the set was not. In one corner, boxes haphazardly were placed with strips of cloth hanging from the ceiling. In another corner a tall rectangular construction with the sign “Termites Grasshopper’s Carpentry”. In yet another, a foreboding roped spider web, where the play begins and ends, a full circle. In the last corner, a hovel of a home where the beetles reside.

“Someone’s going to come out of the hobbit door,” Ashley Lehenbauer, an audience member said.

The set contributed greatly to the play. Although, Nathan Lee, Spider, did get a little hung up on the ropes a few times. He pulled through and gave a wickedly exciting performance with his hollowed voice. Though, his dance was a little awkward.

Kristin McCalley, Butterfly, was just okay. It seems with every play she over acts. She emphatically says each word to where it’s unnatural. Actors must be understood, we get it. However, let’s get some natural voice variation, shall we?

Luke Hatmaker, Grasshopper, was great. He was dramatic, but not too much, and fun to watch.

I didn’t know beetles could have Russian accents. Apparently, they do according to Joanna Rolan who played Auntie Beetle. Though the accent threw me off a bit, she held her own and was consistent with the pronunciation, making sure the accent gave each word some spice.

The beetles were fun. They were full of energy and really committed to their parts which was refreshing.

The Lightning Bug, played by Matthew Rosenbaum, was reminiscent of someone who took a hit of a bong way too often. He sounded stoned!…but in a good way. Rosenbaum made the Lightning Bug more interesting. A peculiar profession calls for a peculiar personality.

Ben Stonick was sweet as honey as the Bee. He was cute, portraying the pathetic life of a trapped bee beautifully.

John Pickard Creek played the flamboyant Fly. Even though his costume sparkled, his acting ability outshined all the razzle dazzle.

“The Butterfly” was one of the better plays performed at Belmont. Though it was meant as a children’s play, the audience was entertained. The costumes were practical but still interesting to keep the audience engaged. The actors did a great job and the set was truly something to “ooh” and “ahh” about. If you have time, catch a performance of “The Butterfly” before it flutters away.

Performances run through April 25th with tickets $8 for non-Belmont students, faculty/staff $4 and free for Belmont students.


Mixed Bill VI: Once More, With Feeling! April 11, 2010

Jazz, tap, ballet, modern.

The Troutt Theater exploded in a riveting display of coloring lights and graceful individuals. Some were theatrical, others were strongly soft, making sure every movement was shown with poise.

The dance department at Belmont hosts a mixed bill every year. It’s a chance to display the talent and show just how great the dancers are. And how great they were!

As the house lights dimmed, the show started with a slinky, modern/jazz/ballet performance entitled “Little Bit of History”. Pirouettes and hip rolling were popular. The dancers wore sparkly black and white costumes. The audience went wild and settled into their seats for a great show.

Every dance, whether it was fabulous or just so so, was perfectly executed. There were some favorites that need to take a bow for its exceptional choreography and performance.

“Little Bit of History” was one of the favorites. After the lights dimmed to black, there was a feeling the mixed bill was going to be one to remember.

“Look Ma, No Hands!”, “Back to the Boondocks”, “Unrest”, “Church” and “Dream Boogie” were no doubt resonating in the minds of the audience.

“Look Ma, No Hands!” opened with the curtain only showing the feet of the dancers and their whimsical knee-high socks. It was adorably creative. The audience was very amused. Audience members commented on how they loved the concept. Simply brilliant.

Dancers were clad in plaid for “Back to the Boondocks”, a tap number. Little Big Town “Boondocks” set the mood for a good time. It floated to the rafters, getting onlookers swaying in their seats. The number fit Nashville perfectly. The dance was a great tribute to South.

“Unrest” was a bit of a turn after the first intermission. It was a very modern dance; you could see the energy pulsating from the tendons all the way to the fingertips of the dancers. Strong movements made for a strong performance. Bravo!

The company came together for the performance of “Church”. This was another favorite among the audience. Laughter sparked as the audience was captivated and engaged. “Church” was the equivalent of a Southern Baptist Church. The preaching gets too long and church members get restless. People need spiritual as well as nutritional food. Gotta eat! Claire Warner, the reverend, was exceptionally comical.

The finale was the best part of the show. “Dream Boogie” featured every dance from “the Juba” to the “Jitterbug, “Doowop” to “Disco”, the “Hustle” to “Hip Hop”. Whoops and cheers exploded in the theater. Words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech were featured on a projection screen.

We cannot turn back.

Whether it be societal acts or dance’s evolution, we cannot turn back.

Overall, Mixed Bill VI was a huge success. If you get a chance to catch a performance, please do! You certainly will not be disappointed. I’ll bet ya you’ll be dancing in your seats and out of the theater.


Grease Lights the Stage March 28, 2010

Grease is the word. It’s got groove. It’s got meaning.

The audience was groovin’ with the musical theatre program as the cast flawlessly performed Grease in the Troutt Theatre at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. It started out very intimate. Sandy Dumbrowski, Elizabeth Smith, and Danny Zuko, Deonte’ Warren stood on opposite ends of the stage with their beautiful duet of “Sandy”. Flared, long skirts and popped leather collars flooded the stage and carried the audience through this adorable 50s love story.

We all know the deal. Sandy and Danny meet over the summer and then coincidentally meet at Rydell High School. Reputations and social circles keep the two apart until they realize they need to change for each other. The early 1970s  Broadway musical, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, deals with love, sex and rock n roll in 1959.

Kenickie, Michael Rosenbaum, and the T-Birds entertained with their testosterone-filled rendition of “Greased Lightnin'” while the musical took a melancholic turn with “Hopelessly Devoted to You” performed by Sandy.

The entire cast did fabulously and everyone was on point. While everyone was a star, there were a few lightbulbs in the box that shined brighter than the others. My favorite of the night were Betty Rizzo, Lindsey Schroeder and Kenickie, Matthew Rosenbaum. Schroeder played it cool, strutting her stuff as if she owned the place (which she did!). She belted “There are Worse Things I Could Do” and looked fabulous. Rosenbaum is always great, truly transforming himself and embracing any character he’s given. I was eager to see how he would do as a greaser and he definitely impressed. He was light on his feet, powerful with his voice, and smooth in his mannerisms.

Special recognition does have to be given to Sonny, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, Doody, Ben Laxton, and Patty Simcox, Maggie McDowell. While these parts were semi-minor, Waterbury-Tieman evoked the best greaser, from his flawless strut to always fixing his coif. He was a greaser through and through and was so fun to see.  Laxton was the goof. “Those Magic Changes” showed off his heart-fluttering vocals. McDowell played the valley girl cheerleader, Patty Simcox, hilariously well. She was a mixture of fun and funny with just a dash of annoying. Perfection.

While the actors played their parts well, casting was a little off. Rizzo had long hair instead of the short tight-curled do we all know and love. Frenchie was extremely watered down. Her hair was in a tight up do. No pink? No flare? Come on! Jan’s hair was fine but should’ve been a few shades darker. And, hello, why not get a curvy girl to play Jan? I couldn’t really recognize who Jan was because she was too thin! Deonte’ Warren, Danny, was really great in the first act. I don’t know what happened between then and intermission but he took on a whole new level of corny. He was too teeny-bopper. Danny Zuko is supposed to be cool and Warren portrayed him as a corny push-over. Sandy, Elizabeth Smith, wasn’t quite right. She had no life to her face, especially during “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. Sure, the lyrics were sad but that’s about it. She definitely could’ve played up the desperation a whole lot more. Smith is a great singer. It would’ve been nice if she let go and truly got into the part. She redeemed herself in “You’re the One That I Want”.

The set was way too simple and a little disappointing. It seemed as thought the musical theater program was short in funding. If the play was in Massey Performing Arts Center, Grease would’ve blew the other plays of the year out of the water. The set is the muscle of the play. The parts seemed thrown together and kind of cheap.

Overall, Grease was something new and the actors did their job. They provided a lovely form of entertainment and made sure they perfected every step, every line before performing. Too bad the stage wasn’t up to par with the actors. If it was, Grease would’ve been one of the musicals written down in Belmont history as one of the greatest musicals ever done. Instead, Urinetown will always outshine Grease when one recollects the plays of the Belmont school year 2009-2010.


The Tempest makes a splash in Troutt January 20, 2010

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival took the Troutt Theater by storm January 15 with their rendition of ‘The Tempest’. Blue, violet and sea green pieces of cloth dangled from the rafters. Two ‘rock’ formations took up most of the stage. When the lights dimmed, the audience was taken on a fun and daring cruise through one of Shakespeare’s famous works.

The story circles around a man named Prospero, a former duke of Milan. He was exiled with his daughter, Miranda, by his brother Antonio. Prospero is a magician, his books being his source of power, and survives 12 years on an island with his daughter, a spirit named Ariel, and a monster and slave, Caliban. Antonio and his co-conspirator, King Alonso with his son Ferdinand, along with a few others, travel by sea. Prospero commands a great storm to engulf the boat and the men find themselves shipwrecked, father and son being separated.

Ferdinand happens upon Prospero and falls madly in love with Miranda. Her father is apprehensive about the boy, thinking he’s just like his father. With hard labor, Ferdinand shows Prospero he is humble and pure, nothing like his father and a very good match for Miranda.Alonso thinks his son is dead which makes him humble and he begs for forgiveness for his actions toward Prospero. Meanwhile, Caliban makes friends with Stephano the cook/butler and the jester, Trinculo. Together, they decide they will kill Prospero and steal Miranda, his magic and powers. Ariel finds out about this and uses their drunkenness to spoil their plans.

The audience finds Prospero make amends and forgives Antonio and Alonso for his treason. Ferdinand and Miranda are then married and the future of Milan is brighter. Prospero ends the play with his vow to drown his magical books.

To say the Nashville Shakespeare Festival did a good job would not suffice. From the very exquisite costumes to the actors’ smooth transitions through their performances. The audience laughed with Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban’s antics as they stumbled about in their drunken stupor. During Ferdinand and Miranda’s wedding, an air of happiness filled the theater.

A few Belmont students acted in the play as well.

Cory Carter, Caitlin Owen Kelly, freshman, and Christine Lamborn, senior, were the three spirits who assisted Ariel in her duties to Prospero. Their movements were graceful and ethereal as they reeled about the stage. Miranda was played by Christiana White, a Belmont theatre performance major. Her performance was flawless, roping the audience in with her high energy.

Brian Webb Russell, Prospero, portrayed the old magician very well. His rich, deep voice is perfect for Shakespearean plays! His whole being was thrown into his character, making it quite difficult for the audience not to think of him as anything but Prospero.

The comedian of the group was probably Dustin Napier, Trinculo. Because he played the jester doesn’t necessarily mean he had to be funny. He could’ve been a very flat jester. However, with Napier, he dedicated himself to every line, every movement. He floundered on the stage and made facial expressions that had the audience howling.

If you plan on going to The Tempest get ready for a very creative, talent-filled show. Get ready to be swept up in the colors, humor and beautiful story.

Catch a performance January 14-31. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday matinees 2:30pm. Tickets are $19 in advance for adults and $22 at the door. Student tickets are $10.