Archive for November, 2012

Another Outstanding Review of A CHRISTMAS CAROL


This is a second terrific review of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If you haven’t yet reserved your seats, DON’T DELAY!, they are going fast. Call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com for tickets. Now read another fabulous recommendation of the show.

Don’t Be a Scrooge, Spend Time With Plaza’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

The Plaza Theatre Company regifted a surprise package during its biennial presentation of “A Christmas Carol,” playing through Dec. 22 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

It’s Steve Lindsay, a Joshua resident who — until this time two years ago — had not been seen on a Johnson County stage but has an acting and directing resume as long as Ebeneezer Scrooge is mean. He has a background in dramatic production at Bob Jones University and studied Shakespeare with the Royal National Theatre in London.

Lindsay plays Scrooge, and is so comfortable and confident in the role that you almost start to like the irascible old goat who — as everyone knows from this venerable tale written 170 years ago by Charles Dickens — hates Christmas and all the trimmings.

Another pleasant surprise is the adaptation which PTC cofounder JaceSon Barrus — who directs the production along with his wife, Tina, also a PTC cofounder — uses to move the story along: the centuries-old theatrical technique known as the chorus. Introduced in the ancient Greek theatre, the chorus offers a variety of background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance.

Centuries ago, the chorus consisted of a group off-stage singers whose songs filled in the blanks. Today, for example, we see a derivative of the chorus in sports movies, where the play-by-play announcer always provides information that normal sportscasters don’t disseminate.

On TV, especially in soap opera-type dramas, the chorus is the ubiquitous phone call where the person receiving the call on screen reveals all we need to know to bring us up to speed on the impending situation.

Barrus lets Lindsay, PTC veteran Jonathan Metting as Dickens (and Fred, Scrooge’s nephew), John Lewis as Bob Cratchit, Jay Lewis in four roles and others talk to the audience as a sort-of chorus to advance the story.

It works.

And kudos to PTC for making the “Ghost of Christmas Past” scenes and other spooky and graveyard sets a little less frightening yet still believable.

This is the third time I’ve seen PTC’s version of “Carol.” The first time was six years ago with my then-7-year-old grandson, who was too scared to enjoy the performance or comprehend its intended message.

Another surprise is the musical numbers in this story typically filled with sinister and scary ghost-like characters who appear to Scrooge as he visits Christmas past and Christmas future.

Leave it to the creative talents of Barrus and G. Aaron Siler, another PTC cofounder — and their family members — to bring not only music, but clever sets and technical devices to the production that is perfect for Plaza’s intimate 160-seat theater-in-the-round.

Although penned in 1843, the underlying theme of “A Christmas Carol” is timeless: a workaholic too busy for Christmas, a working-class family with a sick child and the redemption of a selfish miser who learns it is better to give than to receive.

As you most certainly know, Scrooge bullies his lone employee, Bob Cratchit (played by John Lewis), to whom he pays minimum wage and won’t allow to spend money for a lump of coal to keep his workspace warm.

Scrooge’s office is your introduction to the bare-bones but effective sets designed by Barrus, who, along with Nathan Glenn, also plays one of the charity men turned away by Scrooge as they seek a gift for the poor. The scenes involve only a large office desk for Scrooge and a school-type desk for Cratchit, but you get the idea immediately.

Other sets feature only a bench and fireplace for the Cratchit living room and a single lamppost for the town square.

It’s not all garage-sale items that supplement the acting and singing. Siler has created a neat reverberating device for the voice of Marley, the deceased partner of Scrooge played by Siler. A fog machine creates a spooky atmosphere for scenes when apparitions appear and a door knocker mysteriously transforms into a face.

Eden Barrus and Julie Hall share billing as Christmas Past and Jay Lewis is fun as Christmas Present. Emily Warwick is loving and tender as Mrs. Cratchit.
Mimi Barrus hits all the lines as Tiny Tim.

Adapted for the Plaza stage by JaceSon Barrus, who also designed the sets, with directional assistance by Daniel Scott Robinson, musical direction by Soni Barrus and costumes designed by Kara Barnes, this is a fast-paced presentation that is too full of good music, interesting costumes and good acting to be anything but a fun and entertaining night at the theater.

Give yourself a worthwhile Christmas present and see it.

Sadly, the production is dedicated to the memory of 13-year-old Caleb Midkiff, who had appeared in several past productions at PTC and with the Carnegie Players, who died Nov. 23 from an unknown illness.

“A Christmas Carol,” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 22 at the Plaza Theater, 111 S. Main in Cleburne.

There will also be special performances at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-19.
Tickets — $12 for adults, $10 for seniors age 65 and older, $10 for students and $9 for youth age 12 and under, are available at the theater box office by calling 817-202-0600.

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A Delightful Review of A CHRISTMAS CAROL

We’ve received our first review of A CHRISTMAS CAROL – this from Bonnie K. Daman of The Column by John Garcia. We do dearly love this show and are grateful to our cast and crew who sacrifice so much of their holiday to bring joy to others. Read on for a terrific review of the show, then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com for tickets.

_______________________A CHRISTMAS CAROL_________________________

Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

At the impressionable age of eight I was cast in my very first full production musical – A Christmas Carol. Memories of that experience are still fresh in my mind: Fezziwig’s party, how scary the Ghost of Christmas Future seemed at the time and Tiny Tim’s final exclamation,
“God bless us, every one!” Since then, my Christmas holidays are never complete without Charles Dickens’ beloved tale of the old miser Scrooge and his story of redemption. I was more than thrilled to jump at the chance to see Plaza Theatre Company’s production.

It’s difficult to surpass such performances as Alastair Sim or the re-telling of the classic tale via Jim Hensen’s Muppets (both of which are my favorite film renditions), but there’s something special about seeing this show on stage during the holidays that makes the season seem a bit more magical. What I’ve discovered in particular is how each company and director’s vision of Dickens’ classic differ from each other. It’s almost an adventure to blindly walk into a production not knowing what to expect. JaceSon P. Barrus’ adaptation does not disappoint.

Unlike any other version I have seen, Barrus’ script uses ample text straight from Dickens’ novel as narrative for the actors to tell the story in addition to acting their parts. At the helm is Dickens himself, an actor that also doubles as another character, chronicling the tones and undercurrents of each scene, sometimes speaking particular physical actions of another actor into existence, adding a hint of comedy. The narrator role is reserved mainly for Dickens but switches every so often to another actor where the difference between narrative and dialogue tends to briefly get lost in the shuffle before moving back to Dickens.

Many of the cast members have multiple roles, some of which are purposefully symbolic of the spirit or theme of their counterpart. For example, the character of Present is observed in more than just his spirit form within another brief role.

Barrus’ production is also a musical in the sense that it has music but is far from the normal song and dance routine. Audiences are privy to an array of classic Christmas carols with elegant arrangements accompanied by a fine, well-blended ensemble.

As Co-Directors, JaceSon and Tina Barrus by now should show signs of tiring if their amount of times to perform/produce A Christmas Carol is accurate. Instead, the show is a prime example of years of dedication and appreciation for each aspect of this production put on by Plaza every other year. More significantly is the attention given to the set design and background. The mural painting by Julie Lee is immaculate. It’s like walking into a scene by Thomas Kincade.

Scrooge’s bed chamber, as part of JaceSon Barrus’ set design, is constructed to allow the actors plenty of movement on top of an around key props. The little room remains untouched every other scene and is a nice hub for the lead actors to return to during each transition. In conjunction with props done by Tammi Phillips, scenes are easily interchangeable and flow smoothly. The movement created by the ensemble is swift and precise with no lag time weighing down the pace of the show as they rotate set pieces.

Lighting is instrumental in conveying the many different moods of Scrooge’s journey, another key part also designed by JaceSon Barrus. The cold, dark hues that surround Ebenezer’s home and office only magnify in the wake of the entrance and departure of another character bringing warmth and light. The contrast among the spirits are correspondingly different, each character’s trait easily identified by the lighting. Barrus also enhances a unique effect for the graveyard scene that looks and feels spooky in addition to Scrooge’s already dire situation.

G. Aaron Siler continues to prove he has a knack for special effects.
A variety of vocal distortions adds depth to the otherworldly characters and feels genuine rather than over the top. Siler’s video graphics, in respect to Marley’s appearance on Scrooge’s door knob, are pleasantly disturbing and surprisingly well done.

The costumes, designed by Kara Barnes are standard Victorian Era. For scenes such as the Fezziwig’s party, yards of colorful velvet and lace cover hoop skirts and the women brandish long ringlets to complete their upper-class look while the men look chic in coattails and top hats. In contrast, the Cratchits do not look as poor as expected, however other indigent characters such as Old Joe are slightly lower on the social ladder and their costumes reflect so. Barnes’ work on the three spirits gives each a well-balanced look that ties into the lighting design and enhances the mood of their scenes. Scrooge dons the classic black cape, and with a simple red scarf at the finale his transformation is complete.

The use of Christmas carols does not necessarily call for typical song and dance numbers and instead the cast is consigned to performing often as a chorus in the wings with a solo placed here or there. The one scene that does call for a show-stopping number is the Fezziwig party which is a standout performance due to Tabitha Barrus’ choreography. “Fum, Fum, Fum” is a jolly carol aptly chosen for the first dance number followed by a festive musical interlude where Barrus interjects an English country dance of sorts. The highlight of the dance is when the music swells and the entire cast is moving in unison in one long line intersecting the stage from one corner to the other. The big finale, though somewhat predictable, has the cast executing a Right and Left Grand (a giant circle with the men and women moving in opposite directions) filling the entire stage and concluding the number on a high note.

Musically, the ensemble is well-rehearsed and blends amazingly for being split into three, sometimes four, sections spread around the stage. There is that awkward moment when the groups are trying to exit and tend to bottleneck at the door but that’s only if you’re looking.

The man behind the “Bah, Humbug” is Steven Lindsay. As Ebenezer Scrooge, Lindsay is grievously greedy and self-involved when we are introduced to the character. As the night progresses, Lindsay brings out a spry, quirkiness in Scrooge that the audience loves. What’s more important than his scripted dialogue is his reactions because Scrooge is also watching these visions unfold as a spectator. Lindsay is an open book of emotions, never taking for granted the times when the focus is not on him. My favorite moment of Lindsay’s is during Fred’s holiday party. The cast sings a beautiful rendition of “The First Noel” and there is a moment when Lindsay is looking on at his nephew, the two sharing center stage. I can’t place the intended emotion behind it, but to me it’s the first glimpse of Scrooge recognizing his love for his nephew and ultimately his family.

Jonathan Metting is respectable and lovable as Dickens, the narrator of the story. Metting has a playful quality that is welcoming, almost like a grown up Artful Dodger, and audiences will want to follow him on this journey. Of the rare solos heard throughout the musical, Metting carries the bulk of the work. His performance of “O Holy Night” is strong and clear, using his full voice at the song’s highest part and his solo in “The First Noel” is equally commanding. Metting also plays Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. His transitions between Dickens and Fred show less change in character between the two but allow for more interaction with the cast and Metting plays both roles comfortably.

The role of Past, described as a childlike phantom, is double cast and played by Julie Hall this performance. Hall has an uncanny sense of fortitude and grace as the spirit for one so young. She delivers her dialogue with even tones and a semi-expressionless countenance which gives her character the authority she needs to escort Scrooge through his past. Her voice, with the addition of special effects, is haunting and she carries the weight of her role with ease.

Jay Lewis is this show’s jack-of-all-trades with his many roles. His main performance as Present made me feel as if he might break out into song due to the character’s jovial and larger-than-life demeanor.
Lewis as the Undertaker gives such a contrasting performance from the pleasant spirit that you forget you’re seeing the same actor. His many roles are all notable.

The more haunting characters of A Christmas Carol come to life using the right amount of makeup, voice distortion, costuming and the right actor. While Michael Sorter may not have any dialogue as Future, his presence onstage is rightly menacing and eerie as it should be. As Jacob Marley, G. Aaron Siler relishes in the unnerving presence his character creates as he carries his burdens in chains. My one grievance is that Siler’s voice is too distorted when he raises his volume and some of the wording is lost, but still it’s a creepy effect.

I hold a special place in my heart for the Cratchits, so the anticipation of seeing the family onstage is a part of my excitement for this show. Bob Cratchit is suitably played by John Lewis in this production. Lewis conveys the right amount of timidity in his relationship with Scrooge and he renders an underlying joy that cannot be crushed even in the bleakest of moments. Emily Warwick is lovely as Mrs. Cratchit, a woman with a fiery tongue but a respectful wife and loving mother.

Lewis and Warwick give an emotional performance in Act II at the graveyard that brought tears to my eyes. The young actors playing the Cratchit children are energetic without being too precocious and help make a nice family unit. Tiny Tim, played by Mimi Barrus, is certainly a little darling onstage and her wide-eyed appearance garners some “awes” from the audience.

A couple of remaining stand out moments include Daron Cockerell as Poor Wife and JaceSon Barrus in their duet of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”. The song is also a mash-up with “Silent Night”, sung by the chorus, and the two carols together are performed beautifully all around. Also, the use of “Carol of the Bells” as a transition piece from the graveyard back to Scrooge’s bed chamber is dramatic and effective.

Walking into Plaza Theatre Company feels like coming home to friends and family that you’ve never met but feel a part of and welcomed. It is one thing to experience A Christmas Carol put on by a superb group of actors. It’s another to see and know how much they love it. The redemptive story of Ebenezer Scrooge is one every person should hear and I’m thankful for theaters like Plaza who carry on the tradition. Especially around the holidays, it’s important to be with family and friends and remember how fragile life is, how quickly it passes and that our past is our past, but we can keep the present and change our future.

“God bless us, every one! “

Casting Announcement: SEE HOW THEY RUN at Plaza Theatre Company

Plaza Theatre Company is pleased to announce the Cast List for it’s upcoming production of SEE HOW THEY RUN. A few roles are double cast and are noted. The official cast is:

Penelope Toop – Joy Millard
Ida – Erica Maroney
Miss Skillon – Stacey Blanton/Milette Siler
The Reverend Lionel Toop – Robert G. Shores
Lance-Corporal Clive Winton – David Goza
The Intruder – Kevin Poole
The Bishop of Lax – Steven Lindsay
The Reverend Arthur Humphrey – Aaron Siler
Sergeant Towers – John Lewis

The show will open on the evening of December 31st and will then play every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30pm and Saturday afternoons at 3pm thru January 26th. The production will Directed by Ben Phillips with Stage Management by Cessany Ford. Reservations are available by calling the Plaza Box Office at 817-202-0600 or by visiting www.plaza-theatre.com.

AUDITION NOTICE: The Sound of Music at Plaza Theatre Company

November 26th or 27th between the hours of 7pm and 10pm

Plaza Theatre Company – 111 S. Main St, Cleburne, TX

Auditions are by appointment only. Audition appointments can be made by visiting here or by calling the Plaza Theatre Box Office at 817-202-0600. The audition will be held at Plaza Academy at 221 S. Mill Street (1 block from the theatre)

The show will be Directed by Jodie & Soni Barrus with Musical Direction by Soni Barrus, Choreography by Tabitha Barrus and Stage Management by Emily Warwick.

AUDITION INFORMATION
Those auditioning are asked to come prepared to sing 16 bars of music in the style of the show that will best display their vocal ability. An accompanist will be provided. Additionally, auditioners will be asked to read cold from the script during the initial audition. The directors will spend around 5 to 10 minutes with each individual auditioner at this initial audition.

A call back audition will be held on Saturday December 1st at 9am. Those auditioners who the Directors wish to see further will be invited to the call back audition which may last up to 4 hours time. PLEASE REFER TO THE PLAZA AUDITION GUIDELINES AS WELL AS THE PLAZA AUDITION CREDO WHEN PREPARING YOUR AUDITION FOR THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The guidelines and Credo can be found at plaza-theatre.com/auditions

PRODUCTION INFORMATION
The production will play on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and Saturday afternoons opening on February 1st and playing through March 9th. Rehearsals will commence on December 5th and take place Monday thru Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings till opening. No Sunday rehearsals or performances.

SHOW INFORMATION
Too high-spirited for the religious life, Maria is dispatched to serve as governess for the seven children of a widowed naval Captain von Trapp. She gradually captures the heart of the stern Captain, however upon returning from their honeymoon they discover that Austria has been invaded by the Nazis. The family’s narrowly escapes to Switzerland providing one of the most inspirational finales ever presented in musical theatre.

ABOUT THE THEATRE
Plaza Theatre Company is a 158 seat theatre-in-the-round located at 111 S. Main in Cleburne, TX. The Company produces 10 shows a year usually in the style of family-friendly comedies and musicals. PlazaCo opened in November of 2006 and is currently producing it’s 59th show. The Company has been the proud recipient of over 37 Column Awards including winning “Best Musical” in 2009 and 2010  in addition to recently being named “Best Theatre Group” by the WFAA A-List for 2011. Further information about PlazaCo is available by visiting www.plaza-theatre.com

CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS
Maria Rainer (soprano, 20-35) – A postulant at Nonnberg Abbey; free-spirited, warm, kind, determined. (guitar-playing a plus)
Captain Georg von Trapp (baritone, 35-50) – Retired Austrian naval captain. Strict military demeanor masks grief for his deceased wife, obscuring his warmth and understanding, but not his patriotism. (guitar-playing a plus)
Max Detweiller (tenor/baritone, 35+) – Loyal friend of Georg. Animated and charming,  but not a caricature.
Elsa Shrader (mezzo, 25-40) – An elegant baroness, Georg’s love interest. Sophisticated, dignified, a practiced veneer that can totally hide heartbreak… almost.
Mother Abbess (soprano, 40+) – Head of the Abbey. Strong, authoritative, yet understanding and maternal.
Sister Berthe (alto, 40+) – Mistress of Novices at the Abbey. Sharp-tongued, prudish, less tolerant than most.
Sister Margaretta (mezzo, 40+) – Mistress of Postulants at the Abbey. Understanding, considerate.
Sister Sophia (soprano, 30-50) – Rule-abiding, understanding nun at the Abbey.
Franz (30+) – von Trapp butler. Formal, spirited, loyal German.
Frau Schmidt (30+) – von Trapp housekeeper. Efficient, dispassionate, strong presence.
Herr Zeller (40+) – Stern, stoic Nazi official. A local enforcer of the change in rule.

Youth roles (must play their age, but don’t have to be the exact listed age):

Rolf Gruber (tenor/baritone, 17) – Telegram delivery boy, then Nazi recruit. Suitor to Liesl. Pleasant and young. Hard to believe he’d become a Nazi, then equally hard to believe he’d bend the rules.
Liesl von Trapp (mezzo, 16) – The oldest child, very ready to be grown-up but still not a grown up yet. Somewhat maternal to her younger siblings.
Friedrich von Trapp (14) – A boy. Almost a man. Tries to be the man of the house in his father’s absences, but not quite ready for it.
Louisa von Trapp (13) – Rebellious. Voted most likely to short-sheet your bed.
Kurt von Trapp (falsetto, 11-almost) – Part mischief, part gentle.
Brigitta von Trapp (9) – Smart, but overly honest. Voted most likely to do her homework.
Marta von Trapp (7) – Sweet, gentle. Likes pink, but there’s more to her than that.
Gretl von Trapp (6) – Capable of owning the stage by herself, and tugging audience heartstrings with her little finger.

Salzburg Community:

Baron Elberfeld – von Trapp neighbor. Proud Austrain.
Baroness Elberfeld – wife of the Baron. Classy and sophisticated.
Admiral Von Schreiber – Admiral of the Third Reich Navy.
Trio of the saengerbund of Herwegen – three award-winning singers.
Fraulein Schweiger – First soloist of the St. Agathe’s Church choir.
Ursula (20-50) – von Trapp house/kitchen servant.
Nuns, Postulants
Nazi soldiers
Salzburg neighbors – members of high society

Our Patrons Have Spoken: You Want More Comfortable Seats

We couldn’t agree more. Our seating has served us well these five years. But we’re hoping to replace our current seating with more comfortable seating very soon. In an effort to make this happen, PlazaCo is starting an annual fundraising event. The annual CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR is playing at the Cleburne Conference center ONE NIGHT ONLY!

Featuring an old-fashioned Victorian evening of Christmas celebration.

Guests will receive a special PlazaCo Christmas tree ornament as well as a chance to win a genuine double eagle gold coin. They will also enjoy food, Plaza’s holiday variety show and even Santa Clause!

The holiday variety show will feature many of Plaza’s regular actors and actresses as they perform many favorites of the season.All proceeds raised from the event will be used to provide new seating for Plaza Theatre Company’s patrons.

Tickets for this special fundraising event are $50 a person and are available right now by calling 817-202-0600 or by visiting www.plaza-theatre.com

Please consider joining us for this special evening of holiday entertainment. We know once we’ve gotten the new theatre seating that you’ll be glad you did.
See ya December 4th!

The official Press Release for Plaza Theatre Company’s production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Plaza Theatre Company opening it’s bi-annual production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on November 23rd

November 9th, 2012

Plaza Theatre Company is proud to announce the opening of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on November 23rd, 2012. The production will play Plaza’s newly renovated theatre at 111 S. Main Street in Cleburne, TX opening on November 23rd and playing through December 22nd, 2012. The show will be the 59th produced by Plaza Theatre Company since it’s inception in November of 2006.

Back for it’s every-other-year production at PlazaCo, A Christmas Carol once again tells the story of the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge and his journey to redemption at Christmastime through the appearance of Ghosts of his Past, Present and Future. Adorned with classic carols of the season throughout, A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a tradition unmatched for the joy and pleasure it brings to every holiday season.

While many are familiar with the story and may have seen different productions of the show whether as a movie, on television or on stage; PlazaCo’s production is unique in it’s presentation of this annual holiday tradition. With an original adaptation by JaceSon P. Barrus, PlazaCo’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL presents a most unusual take on this masterful tale by Charles Dickens.

The Cast List for A CHRISTMAS CAROL is: (Double Cast where noted)

Ebenezer Scrooge – Steven Lindsey
Charles Dickens / Scrooge’s Nephew Fred – Jonathan Metting
Jacob Marley / Charles / Old Joe – Aaron Siler
Bob Cratchit – John Lewis
Mrs. Cratchit – Emily Warwick
Tiny Tim Cratchit – Miranda Barrus
Ghost of Christmas Past / Turkey Boy – Julie Hall, Eden Barrus
Ghost of Christmas Present / Mr. Fezziwig / The Undertaker / The Poulterer – Jay Lewis
Ghost of Christmas Future / Dick Wilkins – Michael Sorter
Fred’s Wife / Poor Wife – Tina Barrus
Mrs. Fezziwig – Shauna Lewis
Elizabeth Fezziwig – Molly Morgan
Letitia Fezziwig / Martha Cratchit – Katherine Balaban
Teen Scrooge – Devlin Pollock
Young Scrooge – Austin Swearingen
Belle / Laundress – Tabitha Barrus
Charwoman / Dora – Kimberly Mickle
Charity Man 1 / David – Nathan Glenn
Charity Man 2 / Topper / Poor Husband – JaceSon Barrus
Topper’s Girl – Stefanie Glenn
Peter Cratchit / Boy Scrooge – Josh Cummins, Cameron Barrus
Little Fan – Emma Whitehorn, Paige Moore
Georgina – Stacey Greenawalt King
Ensemble –
Micah King, Noelle Mitchell
Chelsea Manning,  Faith Brown
Donna Moore, Ruth Ann Warwick
Dawn Diyer
Kennedy Styron
Levi King

The production is under the Direction of JaceSon and Tina Barrus with Musical Direction by Soni Barrus, Choreography by Tabitha Barrus, Assistant Direction by Daniel Robinson, Assistant Stage Management by Cessany Ford and Stage Management by Stefanie Glenn. The show will open on Friday November 23rd at 7:30pm and will play every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening thru December 22nd at 7:30pm with Saturday matinees every Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Ticket prices are $15 for Adults, $13 for Seniors and Students and $12 for Children.

Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 817-202-0600 or visiting the Plaza Box Office between the hours of 10am and 6pm Monday thru Saturday. Online reservations as well as further information is available by visiting the Plaza website at http://www.plaza-theatre.com

A Second Review of RAGTIME by John Garcia of The Column


We were thrilled yesterday to receive a 2nd review of RAGTIME from The Column, this by Senior Chief Theatre Critic John Garcia. We had invited John to attend the show, and were surprised (and thoroughly honored) that he wrote a 2nd review of the show. As John notes in the review, RAGTIME is a more difficult show for us to sell to our audience because of its unfamiliar title as well as it’s deeper themes. So we are very grateful he is recommending the show in his review. Read on for Mr. Garcia’s critique of RAGTIME, then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com for reservations.

_______________________________________________________

RAGTIME at Plaza Theatre Company
by The Column by John Garcia’s Senior Chief Theatre Critic John Garcia

Nine out of ten times when I go see a production here in the Metroplex that has already been reviewed by one of my outstanding theater critics on THE COLUMN, I attend merely as a guest to observe the show. Not to review it, just to watch it. My critic has already done that. But then once in that very rare instance, a production so surpasses my expectations that I must put opinions and thoughts on paper. This happened after I saw this weekend’s Plaza Theatre Company production of Ragtime.

There are some musicals I have seen on Broadway that I have learned I should never see again. Why? Because that unique, special quality that made the original so powerful does not duplicate that magic later on in other versions.

Excellent example is Rent. I saw it on Broadway in June 1996 with the entire original cast. I was an emotional wreck by curtain call. Never has a score and a cast moved like that original company. I sobbed in my seat (as others did) as the audience left the theater. When I saw the first national tour at the Majestic Theatre here in Dallas, while it was quite good, it wasn’t the same. I realized why as the show went on. The original cast all started with the show since its workshop and off-Broadway run. But it was more because they were so connected to Rent’s composer Jonathan Larsen. They worked with him so intensely; he even shaped the score to fit their vocal power. They were there when he died the night before its off-Broadway opening night. So on stage you saw that pain, the rich subtext ebb from each cast member. They had Larsen’s life and soul pouring out of their work on that Nederlander stage. The tour cast did not. I would see several other tours of Rent and again, not the same. I saw it again on Broadway years later. Just wasn’t the same. The closest it got to that emotional high that I had when I first saw it was when original cast members Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp went on tour with it.

That is why I refuse to see any local production of Rent. It just won’t be the same as that original cast. They breathed, lived, and loved Larsen and mourned his death, and all that flowed out of their hearts, souls and performances. That’s just something that cannot be duplicated.

I saw the original Broadway production of Ragtime in 1998 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. In fact, it was the first musical to open this sparkling new theater in which they actually fused two existing, decaying theater houses and molded them into one. Most of the original cast was intact with the exception of Audra McDonald. It would be LaChanze portraying Sarah, who I thought was marvelous. Years later I would see her again on Broadway in The Color Purple where she originated the role of Celie. I told her at the stage door when we met and hugged, “You will win the Tony Award because you are that remarkable in this role”. She held me tightly and said, “You are too sweet”. Several months later she did indeed win the Tony Award!

The original Broadway Ragtime was spectacular, both visually and emotionally. An unheard cast of close to 75 members, a huge orchestra and jaw dropping sets that left you speechless.

When the national tour came through Dallas a couple of years later, the production was greatly watered down, both in cast and especially in the design elements. I was so disappointed in the show – such a major let down. As my friend and I were leaving the Music Hall I said, “I’ll never see another version of Ragtime. The original was perfection and now they have changed it so much that it has lost that emotional and visual impact”. And I never have, until this past Saturday night.

When Plaza Theatre Company (PTC) announced they were producing Ragtime, I must be totally honest in that I was quite surprised and thought, “Ouch. That show is too massive and so adult in material. It’s not going to work there”. I had no intentions of seeing it because I felt they could not achieve the artistic beauty as the original. This is why I sent one of my critics to review it. But then I received a compassionate email from one the Artistic Directors to come see it. Not as a critic, but as an audience member. So I took a deep breath and accepted the invitation.

While there were some problems within the production, they can be overlooked because what Plaza Theatre Company has produced is a miraculous, emotional and powerful piece of musical theater.

Let’s get the problems/negative critiques out of the way first. This is a very difficult show to cast, in that you need a large cast of all ethnic types. Alas, this production has a much smaller cast of African Americans. It is very obvious in the opening number in which the upper class and immigrants are a bigger bunch while the cast of African Americans is much smaller.

I could easily see what Directors Aaron and Milette Siler were trying to achieve in the opening number. They duplicated the staging of the original version. Remember, PTC is in the round. Many scenes worked seamlessly and beautifully due to the sublime staging and blocking by the Silers in this production. But some key scenes lost their emotional impact due to sight line problems and too many bodies on stage. Like the opening number. Dead center is where the various “leaders” of the three classes would bump and confront each other. But due to the sea of bodies on that tiny stage, it was lost. Also the subtext for the final measures of the song in which all the ethnic groups mix to dance was lost due to the confines of the stage.

Another staging problem was the finale. As the newly mixed family walks off, the full cast lines up on either side to create a runway for the family to walk past. But that visual of a new American family was lost due to the cluster of bodies. You could not see them at all. Also, all the vocals going at full volume were aimed toward the exit so the majority of the house lost that vocal impact as well.

In my personal taste I think it would have worked so much better if the cast were separated in three mixed groups. Thus showing the subtext and theme of how America was indeed becoming a melting pot. Then place all three groups in the three major exit portals that surround the stage. This would have opened up the company so that their vocals surrounded the audience and we would for sure get the full belting ending that the song calls for. Thus you have only the new couple with their children alone dead center.

While the final moments for Coalhouse Walker were visually spot-on, with blood red lighting flashing, the sound effects for the guns came off too quiet and muffled. This moment should make the audience gasp and seriously feel that subtext.

Remember, we are seeing an honest, caring, loving, law-abiding black man who was turned into a rebel due to the hatred of whites. And yet he again trusts the words of both his black leader, Booker T. Washington, and his white friend, Father, only to be betrayed once more. The gun fire should be loud, ugly, and raw. You want the audience to hear and “feel” every bullet as they represent each racist’s slurs and attacks on Coalhouse. The audience should feel the horror and injustice being done here with those blood curdling gun shots. Sadly Plaza did not achieve that with the sound effect here for that.

There was also the emotional impact in the song “He Wanted to Say” that lost some of its subtext and translation due to the staging. It is Emma Goldman that is singing what Younger Brother is thinking and wanting to say. But sadly she was placed in an area that I had no idea where she was for several minutes. Was she backstage? I finally could see her head from the side far away from my seat at the other end of the theater. She needed to be placed much closer to the action on stage to give the lyric subtext its weight. Maybe bring in that metal unit used for several scenes and have her “stand” above the action to sing those powerful lyrics.

Because Ragtime is an epic journey, physically the musical travels all over the country – Atlantic City, New York, Harlem, a ship, a vaudeville theater, Ellis Island, and on and on. The Broadway version had glorious sets that moved, flew in from the rafters or whisked from the wings; never once did they let the pace slow or leave its audience confused.

PTC is an intimate, in-the-round space. So this had to be one of the greatest challenges for them to recreate on their stage. In a rare feat, Scenic Designer G. Aaron Siler succeeded 80% percent of the time. Stripping the bells and whistles actually elevated the material for the majority of the evening. But there were some stumbles along the way, such as the Morgan library. The original version had an elaborate set unit that resembled an Egyptian exhibit where Coalhouse held court. Plaza uses a myriad of projections to help the audience know where we are in the story. The image was of the Morgan library flashed on the scrim, but on stage there was a simple barrel and a wooden box. So it made you think they were outside. Also, by placing the cop and Father behind a tiny fence frame nearby was perplexing as to who was where.

Another tiny stumble in design was for Atlantic City. The original had this gorgeous sea side landscape with the actual boardwalk. Plaza had nothing on stage to reflect we were by the sea when Mother and Tateh meet again.

But the remaining scenic design worked beautifully. The creation of metal moving units to resemble everything from an attic, a Ford automobile, to baseball bleachers, to a grandstand was flawless. The scale unit for Evelyn Nesbit was quite colorful. The projections also worked flawlessly for so many scenes. I thought the idea of what was projected for Tateh’s “Movie” number in Act Two was a stroke of artistic beauty in design.

The creation for G. Aaron Siler’s lighting design was pristine, colorful and full of what I love to call “emotional lighting”. So many numbers had an array of light cues that changed hues, colors and focus that added so much to the evening. Thank god they didn’t go for what other community theaters do nowadays – use three or four gels, lights up, lights down and call it a day. You could clearly see Siler taking each song, each lyric and giving them an array of lighting cues and changes to bathe the emotion on stage in perfect harmony. I am always in constant awe and amazement on the many hats that Mr. Siler wears when he helms a production. He is a Director as well as the Lighting, Sound, and Scenic designer-and not one of those elements are lackluster. He gives it his all, resulting in outstanding theater.

Finally, I must commend and give high praise to the Silers’ decision as directors to keep some of the harsh, ugly language that was in the original. It is obvious, though, that there was some editing and toning down of the language. While I do understand they cater to the “family friendly” crowds, if you are going to do this kind of material, you must not edit or delete any of the language. The tragic fact is that those words are still being said today. It’s a great history lesson to show teens and others that, after all these years, racism still exists. Cutting some of the language actually hurt the emotional “kick in the gut” reactions that were originally there. It was confusing that in the scene where three white men forbid Coalhouse to drive through and call him the “N” word, a few scenes later the same men say “Negro”. It made no sense whatsoever. These men would NEVER show respect like that to Coalhouse.

They needed to keep the vile language as it is a major part of their characterizations. I know it’s a horrible word, but it is truth and shows the evil cruelty of mankind towards other human beings.

Another edit that greatly harmed the subtext and reality of the lyrics was during the number, “What a Game”. Father takes Boy to a baseball game, away from the harsh reality of his home crumbling under all the racial issues that are circling their lives. But baseball is wholesome, all American and apple pie. While the number is comical, with men spitting, the disgusting truth starts pouring out in the lyrics. The men sitting around them spew and shout out disgusting racial slurs, curse words and language that should make the audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats. Think about it. Look at today’s recent sport games. Men are now beating each other up in the bleachers. There have even been deaths caused by these frenzied spectators. And the language they scream? Whoa!

It was obvious to me the lyrics had been altered here. The character Boy (NOTE: The family has no name, they are called mother, father, Boy, etc.) has a lyric at the end of the number that is very adult. But again you must think of the subtext here. Here is this innocent child surrounded by racists hurling despicable words and slurs, drooling like hungry wolves. The boy only says what he hears from the adults. He’s being taught what to say. The seed of hatred and racism is being planted and passed on to the next generation, and when is the best time to teach them this? When they are young. It’s a double-edged song. It has comical overtones but the dark, shameful truth of what the song really means cuts through like flesh being ripped open, forcing the audience to view the bloody mess they have created for their children. It was unfortunate that the directors did not keep the original lyrics here.

Nonetheless, I still give them a resounding standing ovation for keeping some of the language, because when those words came out, it caused the audience to pay attention and realize the truth. There were two rows of young kids across from me. I would watch them during some of those ignominious, adult laced scenes. They did not giggle, instead they showed on their faces great compassion and empathy. That is what theater should do – teach, educate and show our youth the truth so that they will learn. I greatly commend the directors for keeping some of the adult language.

It is now expected when you see a PTC show that you will see gorgeous, exquisite, refined costumes. Tina Barrus has already earned an armful of COLUMN Awards for her costume designs that are impeccable, detailed, correct in period and always lavish. With Ragtime, she outdid herself. I cannot think of any other community theater that actually has the ensemble have so many costume changes. This was a large chorus and yet they kept coming out in totally different outfits. The fabrics, the color schemes and patterns, the hats, coats, petticoats, gowns, and on and on – you watched an extravagant costume parade that never ended! It was a luxurious spectacle of costume design that Ms. Barrus designed here. Artistic directors from other theaters need to drive to Cleburne and hire this woman. In every production I have seen at PTC, her costumes would put even some of the Equity costume designers to shame. There ain’t any rentals here folks. These are built from head to toe!

The direction and the staging (other than those minor hiccups mentioned earlier) by the Silers was truly remarkable. It was such a smart decision to direct their actors to be true to the material, the lyrics and the subtext. The majority of the cast was right on target with the material. There was no overacting or actors looking lost or not in the moment from the majority of the company. Again, with this being such an intimate space, the audience is inches away, thus we can see everything. The staging and blocking for so many of the scenes
flowed with whispered movements of set pieces, never distracting. The pace was perfection. But where the Silers truly earned their accolades
was in their casting.

Kudos must first go to the ensemble. They play an army of various characters from different backgrounds and they all stayed so committed to their characterizations. They may not have lines, but they were the backbone of this production and added layer upon layer of vocal finesse, beautiful acting craft and commitment to the production.

Delivering some exceptional work in PTC’s Ragtime included David Midkiff as Boy, Ecko Wilson as Booker T. Washington, Elicia Lynn Gantverg as Evelyn Nesbit, Eden Barrus as Girl (the role future Glee star Lea Michele originated and who I saw in), Jay Cornils as Grandfather, Doug Henry as Henry Ford, Auston McIntosh as Houdini, and Burl Proctor as J.P. Morgan.

Whitney Latrice Coulter, as Sarah’s friend, had a beautiful face that radiated warmth. You just could not take your eyes off this girl. She stood out from the ensemble because she took her minor role and turned it into a fully fleshed-out character. She was sassy and quite funny in the Harlem nightclub but when it came to the haunting spiritual, “Till We Reach That Day”, Coulter’s vocal riffs exposed the great pain of loss. She was stellar!

Heather Morill was superb as Emma Goldman. For some reason, both in New York and in the national tour, the actresses played her one tone of anger and a tad too butch. Morill still showed Goldman’s spine, made of steel, and her never ending quest for equality. She was strong, forceful and commanding when she had to be in a world run by men. But she also displayed a very touching, sweet, motherly side that had been missing in other actresses tackling the role. Morill had a rich soprano voice that made her solos glisten and glitter within the score.

Then there were the performers who delivered some of the best work that they have ever done. Plaza tends to double cast their shows, and I strongly feel that because the major principals were not for Ragtime, I truly believe that with this single casting aided the overall production greatly. Each actor was able to truly connect with the others; the chemistry was rich, detailed and very honest. I think that had they been double cast, the show would have suffered greatly. This was yet another reason why the Silers earned another round of ear deafening applause.

Dennis Yslas as Tateh steered away from the way the role tends to be played, that of a bitter, angry immigrant, acted almost one note. Yslas showed more of a quiet, subdued man who only wants what is best for his child. He did protect his child with great force in one scene, although the fight sequence was a bit too safe in its execution. The physical fight needed to be realistic and graphic, but being so close you could tell both Yslas and the other actor barely got close to each other with their fists; a minor quibble here. Yslas’ chemistry and connection to Eden Barrus, as his daughter, and later on with Daron Cockrell as Mother was simply splendid to watch unfold on stage. Yslas had a gorgeous tenor voice that delivered some of the most memorable solos of the evening, such as his part in  “Journey On”, “Gliding”, and his comical number, “Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc”. Yslas and Cockrell had one of the outstanding, marvelous duets within the score with “Our Children”. Both voices crested on each other, soprano and tenor, with perfect crescendos and musicality. Yslas delivered superior work here.

JaceSon P. Barrus and Daron Cockerell have sort of become the Lunt / Fontanne, Jeanette McDonald / Nelson Eddy of Plaza Theatre Company. It seems that in at least one show a season they are cast as a couple. Last season it was Annie Get Your Gun, this season they are Father and Mother in Ragtime. And while they were magnificent as usual, in Ragtime they delivered their most stunning work that I have seen either one of them do.

Ms. Cockerell has yet to have a weak performance in any production that I have seen her perform in. But for Ragtime, she delivered her finest work ever, both as an actress and singer. She peeled layer after layer into the heart and subtext of Mother, reaching in and showing all her love, compassion, pain, loss, confusion, and her place both within her marriage and society. I’ve never seen Cockerell’s dramatic craft so I was quite surprised how remarkable she was in using her tools of acting craft to chisel out such a heart-gripping characterization. Cockrell has one of the BEST, and I mean BEST, soprano voices within the entire DFW theater community. She never cracks. She always keeps that vibrato in control. Some sopranos veer off course with their vibrato, causing them to sound like a nightingale stuck on spin cycle in a washing machine. Not Cockrell. Every solo in Ragtime, she delivered her all. She belted to the skies when needed, and then subsided to a whisper like a feather gliding in the air. Her finest vocal moment came in the 11:00 o’clock number, “Back to Before”. Here Cockerell shred open her pain and loss, letting each lyric stand on its own, and then belted to the very end of the last note. Directors, take note. You need to see this phenomenal talent wrapped up in a physically beautiful and elegant actress!

JaceSon P. Barrus also avoided the one-tone characterization that seems to stay stuck like Velcro when it comes to the role of Father. Mark Jacoby, who originated the role, played him on one level, as an angry, bombastic father. Barrus avoided this entirely and instead created a much richer, complex, deeply moving character. He showed he clearly loves his wife and child, and country for that matter. But when the normality of his life became jumbled and twisted, Barrus showed, through riveting acting choices, Father’s pain, confusion, and perplexity with vivid, raw honesty. His scenes with Cockerell and Midkiff, as his son, will touch your heart deeply. But the final scene with Coalhouse Walker, played by Major Attaway, and his wife (Cockerell) was where Barrus showed layers of dramatic work that I never knew he had nor have seen in the past from this talented actor. He choked on his tears when he says goodbye to his wife in the final scene where they fight over everything. We saw vividly in Barrus’s face, eyes, and subtext that Father knows his marriage is over. It was gripping to watch. When he meets Coalhouse in the Morgan library at the end, we see a white man finally understanding the battle for equality and how he did not help in that cause. Barrus created a marvelous arc that in the past had never been there. Barrus brought to the Plaza stage an extraordinary performance that was his best to date.

The chemistry and subtext between Cockerell and Barrus was the best of the entire evening. They were in perfect sync with each other’s arcs and purpose. They matched each other in both vocal and acting choices on where to take their characters and their marriage. It was very noteworthy to watch these two deliver such great work.

Major Attaway as Coalhouse and Chimberly Carter-Byrom as Sarah became the stars of Plaza’s Ragtime. Their performances were the heart and soul of this production.

Attaway possessed a rich, deep speaking voice that had authority and command. He gave Coalhouse great respect and dignity. Attaway had a captivating stage presence and when he appeared on stage, all eyes zeroed in on him. He gave the character’s arc new levels of humanity and compassion. But when Coalhouse turns into the rebel, Attaway gripped that horrifying anger in him with controlled fury that was riveting. Then there’s his singing voice, a thunderous baritone that could fill Texas Stadium. His vibrato was rich and controlled. Many of his solos were show stoppers but it was when he sang. “Make Them Hear You”. that he floored you. It was a magnificent solo that reminded me how talented this DFW theater community is. Attaway delivered a tour de force performance.

Carter-Byrom was the sweet lioness in comparison to Attaway’s regal lion. An exquisite looking woman, she could melt the ice that covers the Arctic lands with just one glance. She too, like Attaway, discovered new layers within her characterization. Sarah is a quiet, peaceful girl who almost lost her child. Carter-Byrom displayed compelling honesty with the decisions she made as a wife and mother. She never wavered off her arc but cemented her soul and heart into Sarah. I so wish though that what happens to Sarah at the Presidential rally was staged with more graphic reality. It cheapens the moment for the audience of a horrific but true to life situation that has befallen so many minorities over the years. It was not Carter-Byrom’s fault; she reacted exactly what the moment called for. Had it been staged with much more reality, the audience would have reacted much more emotionally to it. As with Attaway, Carter-Byrom also had a resplendent singing voice. Hers was an ethereal, gospel like soprano voice that reached deep into the audience’s hearts. Her solo, “Your Daddy’s Son”, was textured in rich subtext thanks to Carter-Byrom’s vocals. Her duet with Attaway on “Wheels of a Dream” was a show stopping number thanks to these two talented performers. These two deliver star making performances that are not to be missed!

Plaza Theater Company is that rare theater that is just not community theater. They don’t approach their work that way. They work to the bone to elevate their work to artistic beauty that equals a professional level. And each season they do just that. They do advertise that they are a “family friendly” theater company. Thus they do produce productions that cater to that demographic. They bring out the old tried and true musicals (They did Fiddler on The Roof this season) and sweet comedies that won’t offend (like Harvey this season as well).

Other theater companies also stick to those old, decaying warhorse musicals that have been done so many times that sadly I just cannot sit through them one more time. I just can’t. But hey, those musicals pack the audiences in every time. So I know I’m in the minority on this opinion. Audiences love those classics. Sorry, for me they just don’t wet my appetite.

But here’s where Plaza separates itself from the pack. They produce at least one production to wet their artistic palette, and in the process allows their audiences to open their minds to new material. They take a great artistic and financial risk doing this each season. But by doing this, they rise above the rest for taking those artistic risks and ending up with critically acclaimed productions and packed houses.

They did Aida, an interracial love story set to pop/rock music, three years ago. The next season it was Into the Woods, a sophisticated Sondheim musical with a very complicated score. Both musicals earned them back to back COLUMN Awards for Best Musical.

With Ragtime they have not only risen above the pack, they have now surpassed them. I’m sure no other community theater would take on such an artistic and financial risk in trying to mount this mammoth, epic musical that has a humongous cast, tons of scene changes, endless costumes, and a score that demands not just top-notch singers but brilliant actors as well. Then add a storyline with atrocious racism!

What community theater would take on that herculean challenge? Since Ragtime has been available for other theater companies to produce, only one theater company, Irving’s Lyric Stage, took up the challenge – and they were Equity!

Plaza has once again achieved the impossible with their mounting of Ragtime. They have produced a musical that everyone cannot miss, including younger audiences. It will teach them a lot of our history and that how some things have not changed after all these years.

But also it is a chance to see a community theater raise the artistic bar. See for yourself how a theater company is willing to take such an artistic risk in producing more challenging theater. The end result is a stirring, glorious crowning achievement in Plaza’s crown of already of glistening, critically acclaimed successes.

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