Archive for June, 2013

“Bukowsical” Adds To The Outrageous (But Good) Productions At New Line

June 5, 2013
Charles Bukowski (Zachary Allen Farmer) haunted by everyday demons in his life at New Line Theatre's "Bukowsical." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Charles Bukowski (Zachary Allen Farmer) haunted by everyday demons in his life at New Line Theatre’s “Bukowsical.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Scott Miller and his New Line Theatre never back down. Has a musical been a quick flop on or off Broadway? He’ll make it a hit and suddenly regional theatres are salivating to produce it. Is a musical considered too “out of the mainstream?” No problem, let’s give our audiences a choice and see what happens. Is this one too rude, crude and obnoxious? Let’s do it! And now, combining all three of the above theatrical no-no’s, New Line presents “Bukowsical,” the musical.

Ever heard of Charles Bukowski? Not even a lot of the local “literati” I talked to had been familiar with him. If they HAD heard of him, not many had read his stuff. He’s on the fringe of the beat generation and, if you know Ferlinghetti, Kerouac and other prolific writers of that era, you might have run across the writings of Charles Bukowski. The problem is, he ran off the rails more than the others. Despite living into his 70’s, his boozing, womanizing and other addictions made him a failure to most of the world and stifled his popularity so, it’s a perfect “case” for New Line. A sort of on-stage intervention.

Sweet Lady Booze (Marcy Wiegert) tempts Bukoski (Zachary Allen Farmer) in New Line's "Bukowsical." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sweet Lady Booze (Marcy Wiegert) tempts Bukoski (Zachary Allen Farmer) in New Line’s “Bukowsical.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

More like a musical revue, we get to review his life in “Bukowsical.” From his early days being bullied by other students at school to the path of destruction he left in his wake by being in and out of reality and in and out of his creative mind, his was a tragic life. But in this show, this tragic life is treated more like “The Sound Of Music” than high drama. His chance encounter with Sweet Lady Booze, his hallucination of prominent writers of the time giving him advice and his random encounters with his One True Love all are given the song and dance treatment.

New Line veteran, Zachary Allen Farmer plays the ubiquitous Bukowski with the perfect combination of confusion and a classic stage drunk. Remarkably light on his feet during the many dances he struts through and the always steady singing voice are mixed with this solid acting performance. Joel Hackbarth is adept as well as he spreads himself over several roles including narrator for the proceedings and “Tennessee Williams” in that bizarre quartet of writers that urges Bukowski to “Get Dirty.”

An unorthodox moment during the uplifting tragedy that is "Bukowsical" at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

An unorthodox moment during the uplifting tragedy that is “Bukowsical” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

From Bishop Fulton J. Sheen to Mickey Rourke, Ryan Foizey pops in and out of Charles Bukowski’s life with verve and great comic timing. New Line’s favorite leading lady lately, Kimi Short, shows why as she handles a wide range of emotions as Bukowski’s One True Love. Unfortunately, she doesn’t always feel that special and it leads to a major turning point in his life.

The rest of the well-rounded cast provides solid work in multiple roles including a perfect dead-pan Sylvia Plath and unrelenting teacher by Chrissy Young, Marcy Wiegert includes Sweet Lady Booze to her “Bukowsical” resume, Nicholas Kelly gets to play, among others, William Faulkner while the unlikely trio of William Burroughs, Sean Penn and Swifty Lazar are all handled by the spot-on Christopher Strawhun.

The opening, title number of "Bukowsical" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The opening, title number of “Bukowsical” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Realizing what a unique show he has on his hands, Scott Miller brings us up from the depths of this rather sordid and sad life into musical comedy heaven. Incongruous numbers aided by the happy-go-lucky choreography of Robin Michelle Berger make you almost forget the despair and the unusual lyrics generously sprinkled with obscenities. Justin Smolik’s deft work with the small New Line Band gets the most out of the Gary Stockdale music while the book and lyrics by Stockdale and Spencer Green are clever despite the tragic subject matter and propensity for (Bukowski appropriate) foul language. In fact, the playwright/composer team was there for opening night.

Amy Kelley’s colorful costume design brought in that whole world of the beat generation and beyond and it’s all enhanced further by Scott L. Schoonover’s spare but effective set design and the workman lighting design of Kenneth Zinkl.

As you can tell, this is one of those New Line shows that’s not for everyone. If you’re easily offended, stay away. On the other hand, if you only get “slightly” offended by off color humor and sexual situations on stage, you might actually fall in love with “Bukowsical.” This just proves once again that Scott Miller is unafraid to bring anything to a St. Louis audience. And, once again, he manages to succeed. “Bukowsical” plays at the Washington University South Campus Theatre through June 22nd. Call 314-534-1111 for ticket information.

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Allen’s Alley (6-2-13) Call For Stories: The Barn and Plantation Dinner Theatres

June 2, 2013

new allen's alleyAs a former amateur actor and director (last worked theatre at Maryville University before I retired from there in 2000, after 23 years), I’ve been enthralled with all of the testimonials on FB recently about people earning their equity cards. Reminds me of the annual SAG awards when the actors at the tables relate how they got their cards and finish with their name and then the phrase, “…and I’m an actor.”

A recent post by Bobby Miller mentioned his card was earned at the Barn Dinner Theatre. That brought back a flood of memories. I started reviewing theatre in the early ’70’s and The Barn and Plantation facilities offered a bizarre mix of on-again, off-again food with some on-again, off-again theatre depending on the star driving the vehicle. So much of the local talent endured constant mugging or trademark “bits” forced into legitimate plays but then we saw some great things when stars were seriously trying to do good work or, in some cases, when that local talent filled a show without a star driving it.

Before I launch into a few memories and observations, let me urge any Barn and Plantation veterans to respond to this post or contact me at stlcritic@aol.com with stories about your experiences there. Besides this edition of “Allen’s Alley,” Bobby and I have discussed expanding the story including the unusual history and any stories we get about these two unique facilities.

With so much “drama” going on during the comedies on stage, the audience was often more fun to watch. There was always the fun of watching what “sweet young thing” Gentry Trotter (a then local and rather flamboyant critic) would bring as his guest. During the ’70’s it was always exciting to see the new fashion trends for the discriminating male theatre-goer. Would they wear their leisure suit? Perhaps the latest Nehru jacket or- better yet- the even more short-lived Eisenhower jacket.

Then, of course, there were the cast parties after the play. What’s better than my wife getting a kiss on the hand from Cesare Romero?  Me getting a kiss on the lips from Angela Cartwright. Most of the “stars” were very nice and really made an attempt to mingle with the guests. Forrest Tucker and I traded jokes till past midnight- even though his performance on stage in “Hanky Panky” wasn’t the quality we hoped for (after he played Harold Hill in the touring company of “The Music Man” at the American Theatre). Ruta Lee went “lap to lap” with all the guys. Tommy Smothers was a kind and very serious soul. And, of course, there’s that kiss from Angela Cartwright!  Then there was the drunk (on stage during “Charley’s Aunt”) Donald O’Connor who didn’t show up to the cast party at all. We didn’t even bother attending the party after Martha Raye mugged her way through the horrible to begin with play, “Everybody Loves Opal.” At least the food was usually pretty good at the cast parties.

The last owner, Mike Moss, due to his shady shenanigans, probably went into investment banking after his theaters finally went bust. He was, as one of my friends close to the theaters said, “Mike The Monster.” He was in so much trouble near the end of the run with unions, actors and audiences that he finally slunk out of town and the Plantation transformed into a church.

Allen's Alley picBut before that run ended, there were some unbelievable productions going on. You never knew what you were going to get as the local talent held most plays together, but stars, bad directorial decisions and often bad food before the show weren’t conducive to a good theatrical experience. Then, on occasion, you’d get an excellent all-around production. Of course, there were the odd mix of spiecial events too including Will B. Able’s “This Was Burlesque” and the drag show, “French Dressing.”

Through it all, many folks still involved in St. Louis theatre today were a part of this bizarre history. With titles like “Two And Two Make Sex,” “Never Get Smart With An Angel” and “Here Lies Jeremy Troy” mixing with more familiar shows like “The Odd Couple,” “Bell, Book and Candle” and even a musical or two like “I Do! I Do!”, they participated in an odd conglomeration of theatre. From Sarah (now Sally) Eaton in “Busybody” to Peter Mayer in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” the local talent always “starred” in these shows. There were names like Bobby Miller, Amy Ruprecht, John Contini, Alan Clarey, Joan Hanson (and her husband Alan who directed several productions), James Anthony, Patton Hasegawa (now L. Patton Chiles), James Paul and Kevin Hofeditz- who later took his mentor’s last name and became Kevin Paul, Susie Wall, Whit Reichert, Gary Carlson, Millie Garvey (who also choreographed several musicals there), Richard Cosentino, “Buzz” Barton, Joneal Joplin and many, many more.

Then, as the theaters were beginning to breath their last, two actors who were in many of the productions and then married, Art and Kathy Romans, rented the Barn and remade it as The New Barn Dinner Theatre. The quality of the food and the productions dramatically improved. Suddenly we were getting wonderful shows like “The Moon Is Blue” with Susie Wall, Joneal Joplin and Neville Mur, “An Almost Perfect Person” with Maggie Ryan, James Paul and Peter Mayer, “Luv” with Susie Wall, Richard Pilcher and Gary Carlson, “The Owl and The Pussycat” with Bobby Miller and  Patton Hasegawa, and “The Rivalry” with Arthur C. Romans as Stephen Douglas and Joneal Joplin as Abraham Lincoln.

I talked to Kathy Leake Lucas, who, with her husband Art Romans, had that short 8 or 9 month run at the New Barn Dinner Theatre. They divorced in 1992 and Art died of stomach cancer in 1999. Kathy is now married to Jim Lucas and they live in Henderson, Nevada. She’s worked in real estate, has been a motivational speaker for the last eleven years and still sings as part of the Sweet Adeline’s Barbershop Chorus. But she’ll always be remembered as one of the “savior’s” of the Barn. Dinner theatre has never been the ideal form of theatre. You get somewhat rowdy crowds who eat AND drink before a show and so much of dinner theatre has been relegated to second tier plays often resulting in second class productions. In one of the productions- I believe it was Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”- the rather unruly crowd started yelling things at the actors like “Don’t listen to him- he’s the killer.” That’s almost as bad as a cell phone going off during one of today’s legitimate theatre productions.

We weren’t able to attend the last few plays as the Plantation Dinner Theater faded into oblivion. As I said, the owner got into some trouble with unions (particularly union painters, for some reason), I don’t remember the whole story- but I mentioned it in one of my reviews and he vehemently cut me off the press list.

With so much of that local talent on those stages over the years, though, I would really like to hear your experiences- the good, the bad and the horrific. As I said at the top, reply to the blog or my personal email at stlcritic@aol.com and we’ll share your stories. It was a fun, roller coaster ride and a great piece of St. Louis theatre history.