Archive for February, 2014

Join Us At The Column Awards GALA – Monday February 24th

Column Details

The Column Awards Gala is Monday February 24th at the Granville Arts Center. This year’s special celebrity guest host is Rachel York. This event is a celebration of live theatre in the Metroplex and Plaza is honored to be included. Since opening in 2007, PlazaCo productions have been the recipient of over 40 Column Awards including wins for Best Musical in 2010 for AIDA, 2011 for INTO THE WOODS and 2013 for RAGTIME.

Further, as has been our privilege in the past, PlazaCo’s 2014 nominee for Best Musical – MAN OF LA MANCHA – will be performing a number from the show at the Gala. Additionally, productions from Plaza’s 2013 season of shows received 21 nominations which will be read throughout the evening as winners are announced. Finally, the event is a major fundraiser for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS with all proceeds donated to support this important cause.

We invite you to join us at the Gala on Monday the 24th. The event is a special evening of recognition of all of the excellent work presented on area stages during the last year. AND by attending and supporting The Column we may express gratitude to an organization that has been a major supporter of PlazaCo almost from the opening of the company in 2007. From the awards we’ve been fortunate to receive as well as the coverage we are given both in the form of critical reviews and in dissemination of press releases, The Column by John Garcia has been a massive contributor to the growth of our nascent theatre company here in Cleburne.

Tickets for the Gala are $25 for General Admission or $50 for Admission to both the main event as well as the Celebrity Reception (where you can meet Rachel York) before the show. Reservations can be made by calling 972-205-2790, by visiting www.garlandartsboxoffice.com or at the door the night of the show (subject to availability).

We look forward to seeing you there.

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Some Beautifult Photos of THE KING & I at PlazaCo

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PlazaCo’s current production is a visual feast for the eyes, and here are some beautiful photos of the show to prove it. From costumes, sets, lighting and of course some stunning performances and exquisite music, THE KING & I is a must-see. Enjoy the pix, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to make your reservations. (NOTE – All photos by Stacey Greenawalt)

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Casting Announcement: KISS ME KATE at Plaza Theatre Company

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Plaza Theatre Company is pleased to announce the official Cast List for its upcoming production of KISS ME KATE. The show has begun rehearsal and will open on March 14th. The show is under the direction of G. Aaron Siler with Musical Direction by Cheri Mega, Choreography by Tiffany Mullens, Assistant Stage Management by Patti Cockerell and Stage Management by Lindsay Hardisty. KISS ME KATE will open on Friday, March 14th and play through April 12th.The cast is: (double cast where noted)

Daron Cockerell Lilli Vanessi & Katharine Minola
JaceSon Barrus Fred Graham & Petruchio
Carlee Cagle Lois Lane
Jonathan Metting Bill Calhoun & Hortensio
Michael Durington First Man
Aaron Siler Director, Second Man
Kristi Taylor Hattie
Jesse Bowron Paul & Lucentio
Levi  King Gregory & Gremio
Tom Cockerell Harry Trevor & Baptista Minola
Luke Hunt General Harrison Howell
Robert Shores General Harrison Howell
Stacey Greenawalt Padua Inn Waitress/Singer
Brittany Holcomb Wardrobe Lady
Ashlyn Keith Dancer, Ensemble
Nicole McDonald Padua Maiden, Dancer
Jamie Long Pops, Padua Priest

THE KING & I Receives Another Phenomenal Review: Kristy Blackmon of The Column by John Garcia

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If you haven’t yet reserved your seats for THE KING & I, take the critics advice and get them reserved right away because the show is a sure sell-out. Read on for a wonderful review of the show from Kristy Blackmon of The Column by John Garcia and then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve.

__________________THE KING & I at Plaza Theatre Company___________________

by Kristy Blackmon, associate theatre critic for The Column by John Garcia

Even more than most big budget shows from that mid-20th century golden age of American musical theatre, Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1951 extravaganza The King and I demands opulence and technical excellence. This type of show is the preferred niche of Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne, despite its small stage; The King and I is the season opener this year for a lineup that includes Kiss Me Kate, Camelot and Little Shop of Horrors. On nearly every technical front, Plaza outshone itself with this production. The crew of The King and I deserved a curtain call and standing ovation of its own.

Tina Barrus’ costume design never fails to impress me but her work on this show absolutely blew me away. From the wide hoop skirts and frilly touches on the dresses worn by Anna Leonowens, the English schoolteacher who has come to teach the royal children of Siam, to the rich and exotic costumes of the Siamese royal court, each piece was extensively researched and crafted from scratch (according to one producer’s announcement at intermission). Each outfit surpassed the one that came before. During the climax of the second act, when the court entertains a group of visiting English dignitaries with an elaborate dinner and play, the audience gasped audibly when Browning revealed her gorgeous mint green, antebellum ball gown. No less impressive were the stunning costumes worn during the court’s theatrical rendition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which they call “The Small House of Uncle Tom”. The attention to detail in each piece was absolutely remarkable. Once again, I take my hat off to Ms. Barrus and her group of dedicated costume crew members. Their excellence played a large part in what made this show a success.

The set design by JaceSon P. Barrus and props by Tammie Phillips were also worthy of special note. It was obvious that Phillips, like Tina Barrus, had done her research; each prop was historically accurate and aesthetically pleasing. Rarely are props a technical element that catches my attention, but Phillips did an exceptionally good job with this production. JaceSon Barrus’ sets were beautiful, especially the royal gardens where star-crossed lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha carry out their sweet, secret rendezvous. While the transition of some of the larger pieces between scenes made for one or two rather excessively long blackouts (a technical faux pas that typically drives me insane), I understand in this instance the directorial decision to prioritize scenic ambience over unbroken action. JaceSon Barrus’ sets and Tina Barrus’ costumes were enough to draw the audience back in every time an extensive blackout lost their attention.

Overall, Cameron Barrus’ light design was successful, especially during the moonlit assignations of Tuptim and Lun Tha and during the dramatic performance of “The Small House of Uncle Tom” in the second act. However, the lighting was very distracting in many of the solo numbers, most notably during the number “A Puzzlement”, sung by the King. The King paced the entire length of the space more than once during the number, and instead of just lighting the whole stage and giving him free reign to really settle into the part, a long series of isolated spots forced him to hit specific marks at very specific times in order to stay lit. While the actor is experienced enough to find the light most of the time, the design was simply too complicated and convoluted to keep up with, and we lost him to shadow more than once.

G. Aaron Siler had one or two problems with his sound design, as well, which is a very rare and slightly surprising occurrence. Vela’s high soprano, while clear, tended toward the thin side, and she was overwhelmed more than once by the orchestrations. There were also some issues with the actors’ microphones; Browning’s completely went out a few minutes before the end of the show. Luckily, she had no songs left and the space is small enough that her speaking voice carried. These missteps are noteworthy mainly because they are very uncommon departures from Siler’s typical mastery of the sound at this theater.

Keli Price did a brilliant job choreographing the ballet for “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” adapting the original choreography of Jerome Robbins to the small stage with highly evident skill. The dance corps was remarkable in this scene, especially the dancers playing Eliza and George/the Angel. It’s a shame these roles went uncredited, as this was undoubtedly one of the most successful scenes of the musical. Every designer got a chance to push themselves and prove their technical chops during this play-within-a-play, and both the haunting beauty of the dancing and Vela’s narration highlighted the irony of the performance, in which the struggle of an American slave to escape her cruel master and assert her God-given right to happiness is portrayed by subjects of the King who are essentially slaves themselves. I could have gone to see this production solely for this sequence.

Browning was commendable as Anna Leonowens and channeled the same kind, yet no-nonsense tone we saw from her last season as Maria in Plaza’s The Sound of Music. Her singing voice was pleasant, and she did a good job in numbers with the children and wives. Though she got off to a rocky start with the opening classic “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” missing her cue and just giving an okay vocal performance, she seemed much more collected and at ease while reminiscing during “Hello, Young Lovers.” By the time she sang “Getting to Know You” to her students, she displayed a heart-warming connection to the women and children of the Royal Palace.

Browning truly came alive, however, during her scenes with Joel Lagrone, and vice versa. While both actors could seem one-dimensional in their own separate scenes, they had an obvious chemistry and played extremely well off of one another when they shared the stage together. Lagrone was (forgive me) absolutely adorable as the stubborn and proud king who knows he needs to change in order to bring his country into modern times, but cannot bear to let Anna see his insecurity. Meanwhile, Browning was nowhere more likable than in her scenes with him. Equally stubborn and proud, Anna is also wise enough to know when to choose her battles, and intuitive enough to see straight through the King’s blustering. Browning was quick to play off of Lagrone; their dialogue was nicely paced, and Browning used pauses and facial expressions very effectively in their interactions. Browning’s Anna ached to protect the King from both outside threats and his own vanity, and her sense of betrayal at his inability to fully shed his old, “barbaric” ways was heartbreaking.

Joel Lagrone caught the hearts of the audience early as the King, and then never let them go. By the time he finished his solo “A Puzzlement,” he had us eating out of the palm of his hand. Every interaction with Anna or his children made him more lovable. When Lagrone pulled Anna close during “Shall We Dance?” and swept her around the stage in a grand, joyous polka, the audience applauded. And when he handed the kingdom over to his young son and died at the end of the play, at least half of the people around me wiped away tears. Lagrone gave a nuanced, energetic performance that was the best of the night for me.

Another standout was Christia Caudle as Lady Thiang, the King’s wise head wife who knows him better than anyone else and sees what all the other characters are trying to hide, including Anna’s feelings for the King and Tuptim’s feelings for Lun Tha. Caudle’s quiet strength was remarkable, and her solo love song to the King, “Something Wonderful,” was a highlight of the evening. She had the best singing voice of anyone in the cast, a clear, powerful soprano that she controlled easily. One of the areas in which Plaza consistently excels is in its supporting cast members, and Caudle’s performance continued the trend.

Jay A. Cornils as the King’s personal servant Kralahome was also strong in a small part. His portrayal of devotion and fierce loyalty to the King was touching.

Jonathan Metting displayed strong vocals as Tuptims’s lover Lun Tha. His rich baritone soared through the space during his duets with Vela, “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” He struggled with trying not to overpower Vela’s vocals, which were clear and pretty but not strong, and certainly not equal to his loud, powerful high notes. The pair lacked chemistry, but their scenes were still pleasurable and sweet.

Vela portrayed the angry, defiant side of Tuptim well. Her opening solo “My Lord and Master” was full of bitterness and surprisingly touching. For me, her most successful scene was when she narrated “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.” Her melodious voice was sweet, yet never boring. She channeled the emotions of the characters she was reading about into the tone of her voice. The irony of the story is not lost on Tuptim, and Vela’s voice showed a mounting frustration with the King’s inability to see it.

The other royal wives and their children were wonderfully endearing. It can be challenging for such a large ensemble—especially one composed of so many children—to share the stage while not taking attention away from the main action, but it wasn’t once a problem during this production.

While the performances ranged from solid to excellent, it was the visual elements of this production that would make me drive out to Cleburne to see it a second time. Plaza Theatre Company continues to excel in this genre of crowd pleasing, big classic musicals. The King and I is a fabulous start to their season and, hopefully, a good indication of what 2014 has in store for their fans.

The First THE KING & I Review: The Show Is A Visual Feast

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We’ve received our first review for THE KING & I, and it highly recommends the show for an wonderful evening of entertainment. Read on for Paul Gnadt’s excellent review of the show, then call 817-202-0600 or visit http://www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve your seats.

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Arrange for an audience with Plaza’s ‘The King and I’

By Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

As usual at a Plaza Theatre Company musical production, the singing is outstanding, the sets simplistically creative and the choreography a kaleidoscope of color.

But this time, those on stage must share equal billing with a behind-the-scenes crew who doesn’t utter a word or sing a note: the 11-person team who assisted costume designer Tina Barrus with the construction of the variety of colorful garments for what is an enjoyable trip to old Siam in the PTC’s presentation of “The King and I,” playing through March 8 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

Maralena Almond, Shawn Baily, Soni Barrus, Rachel Bond, Dawn Diyer, Stacey Greenawalt, Elizabeth Morris, Dale Parker, Glenda Simmons, Amy Skinner and Danno Smith must not have any fingers left after stitching, sewing and assembling costumes for 43 actors who seemingly change clothes every time they appear and reappear.

From left in front, Jay Cornils as Kralahoma, Joel Lagrone as the King, and, far right, ChrIstia Caudle as Lady Thaing, bow toward Buda while Meredith

Your visual sense satisfied, your auditory receptors will love the voices of Meredith Browning as Anna Leonowens, Joel Lagrone as the King, Kate Vela as Tuptim and Jonathan Metting as Lun Tha.

No PTC production is complete without Jay Cornils, who, in his 22nd PTC appearance, is Kralahome, a sort of right-hand man to the King.

Browning, who Plaza regulars will remember as Maria in “The Sound of Music,” has most of the solos and her university level (Abilene Christian, Boston) vocal performance-trained voice is a delight on Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II favorites such as “Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” and “Shall We Dance?”

Lagrone also does it right, just as he did as Don Quixote in PTC’s “Man of La Mancha.” Instead of attempting to mimic Yul Brynner’s macho-man from the “King” movie, Lagrone keeps his shirt on and plays it very understated, yet in command.

Based on Margaret Langdon’s 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” which itself is based on the true story of Leonowens, an English woman in the 1800s who, after her husband dies, takes a job as teacher to the multitude of children sired by King Mongkut.

The King boasts of having 67 children, “With three on the way,” and Plaza rounds up 23 children and seven wives, all simultaneously on stage multiple times.

The story begins as Anna arrives in Siam (now Thailand), and her Western values are immediately confronted with the king’s dozens of wives and concepts of polygamy, slavery and obedience to his authority.

Further tension is created by the secret affair of Tuptim (Vela), who is liked by the King, but is in love with Lun Tha (Metting) and wants to be free.
Vela and Metting have good voices, and their duets on “We Kiss in a Shadow,” and “I Have Dreamed,” are heartfelt.

When the king learns that European powers think he is a barbarian and are sending a British ambassador (JaceSon Barrus, who also plays ship Capt. Orton, designed the sets, sells popcorn and escorts you to your seat), he is persuaded by Anna to orchestrate an elaborate dinner and performance to prove he is educated and the nation has culture.

Much, perhaps a little too much, of the second act is devoted to a play-within-a-play: Tuptim’s interpretation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Tuptim titles the play “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” and uses dance to translate her understanding of Stowe’s story.

The dance features high school sophomore Katherine Balaban running through the woods of the PTC stage by hopping on one leg across a sheet that becomes a frozen river, while child actors run across the stage with noise makers simulating thunder and others hold mobiles of make believe snow flakes.
Your senses run wild, but your imagination knows exactly what is happening.

Tension meets conflict when the King discovers that Tuptim has been having an affair with Lun Tha and is about to discipline her with his whip — as would be the custom under his rule — but he cannot do it when he realizes how barbaric and uncivilized it is.

You probably already know how the story ends, sorta sad, but with hope for the future, like many of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals that have underlying themes of social commentary, such as the racial prejudice of “South Pacific.” In “King,” the idea of acceptance of others can be identified as a not-so-hidden agenda.

But here’s the deal: you can spend the evening psychoanalyzing every lyric and line, or you can simply sit back and enjoy some wonderful singing, colorful costumes and a really good story.

See it and the next day you’ll be whistling a happy tune.

Directed by the husband and wife team of Soni and Jodie Barrus, with choreography by Keli Price, music direction by Soni Barrus, sound design by G. Aaron Siler, and lighting designed by Cameron Barrus, “The King and I” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays at the Plaza Theatre, 111 S. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older and high school and college students, and $13 for children age 13 and under — and can be purchased online at http://www.plaza-theatre.com, or at the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, or by phone at 817-202-0600.

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