Archive for the ‘ Reviews ’ Category

Theatre Review: “Plaza’s DEAR RUTH Is One To Write Home About”

Dear-Ruth-web

Plaza’s ‘Dear Ruth’ is one to write home about

Comedy plays through Oct. 5 in Cleburne

They should have waited.

The Plaza Theatre Company could have waited until a break in the schedule to install its 158 new theater seats, but decided instead to introduce them during the current production of “Dear Ruth.”

Big mistake, since the audience didn’t get to enjoy them, spending most of the night falling out of their seats with laughter at this fast-paced comedy, the kind that PTC — along with musicals — does so well.

There are two casts, each with Plaza veterans (Luke Hunt, Jay Cornils, Tabitha Barrus) so it really doesn’t matter which one you see, although two main characters played by fan-favorite Jonathan Metting and quickly-becoming-a-fan-favorite David Goza remain the same in both versions.

Otherwise, both casts are sprinkled with experienced actors making their return to the stage after absences for various reasons, and newcomers who perform with seasoning under the direction of Taffy Geisel, who most recently arose from her director’s chair (“Happiest Millionaire,” “Annie”) to play Miss Myrtle, one of the two Bible-toting old holier-than-thou gossips she created for Amen Corner in the “Smoke on the Mountain” trilogy.

The story takes place in the living/dining room of the Kew Gardens, Long Island, N.Y., home of Edith and Judge Harry Wilkins on a weekend in August 1944, when Lt. Bill Seawright (Goza) returns from the war to meet and hopefully marry the Wilkins’ oldest daughter, Ruth, played by Kelly Nickell in the production I attended and double-cast with Tabitha Barrus.

Apparently, Ruth has been corresponding with Seawright via dozens of romantic letters, inspirational poems and words of encouragement to help him get through the war. She also sent her photograph. He has responded in kind and now shows up unannounced to meet her. Except Ruth did not send the letters and knows nothing about them. They were sent by her younger sister, Miriam (double cast with Rachel Browning and PTC rookie Brooke Verbois) who included a photo of her older sister.

When Ruth discovers the ruse, she goes along with the charade in the hopes that she can get through the weekend without having to confront Seawright.

But we all know it won’t go smoothly, especially when we’re introduced to Ruth’s fiance, Albert Klummer, played by Metting, fresh off his funny turn as Rev. Oglethorp in “Smoke.”
Even when he is not the center of attention, watch Metting’s facial expressions. He is focused and funny.

Every the-sky-is-falling comedy needs a steady anchor and that’s where Judge Wilkins rules, played with confidence by Hunt (for the performance I attended), who delivers his clever lines with perfect timing. There’s no reason to think veteran Cornils won’t do likewise on the nights he plays the judge.

Katy Wood (double cast with Cheryl King) plays Edith Wilkins, and her give and take with her husband provide some light-hearted and warm moments.

Some new characters are added in the second act which makes you think you’ve got things figured out, but you don’t.

“Dear Ruth” doesn’t have the surprise ending of “The Foreigner,” or the slapstick silliness of “See How They Run,” but it’s cute, clever, funny and fun.

Write yourself a note to see it.

You’ll also enjoy the new deep-burgundy seats that have more padding and stability and are higher off the ground than their predecessors.

From a play by Norman Krasna (who also wrote “White Christmas”), with costumes by Tina Barrus, sound by G. Aaron Siler, lights by Cameron Barrus and set design and construction by JaceSon Barrus and Justin Diyer, “Dear Ruth,” is presented at 7:30 p.m.  Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 5 at the Plaza Theatre, 111 S. Main St. in Cleburne.

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

The Star Group Review: “Make It Your Quest To See MAN OF LA MANCHA”

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MAN OF LA MANCHA is playing for three more weekends at Plaza Theatre Company. It is a beautiful story with magnificent performances and glorious music. But don’t just take our word for it – read Paul Gnadt’s review of the show below, then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com for reservations.

Make it your quest to see Plaza’s ‘Man of La Mancha’

Keene’s Shannon Loose as Aldonza sings a lament to a horse and donkey during the Plaza Theatre Company’s presentation of “Man of La Mancha,” paying Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 7 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

Three words: Perfect. Finally. Creative.

The casting of community theater veteran Joel Lagrone to play the title role and Carnegie Players’ Shannon Loose to play his leading lady is the perfect combination for the Plaza Theatre Company’s presentation of “Man of La Mancha,” playing through Sept. 7 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

It’s about time we finally see Loose, who lives in Keene, on the PTC stage. The lady can really sing. Her role of Aldonza is double-cast with PTC cofounder Milette Siler, who can also sing. But it was Loose in the role the night I attended and, hopefully, this is the first of many appearances she will make at PTC.

And once again, PTC’s creative cofounders G. Aaron Siler (sound, light and set designer) and JaceSon Barrus (set design and construction) have transformed the space-challenged Plaza theatre-in-the-round stage into another world, this time a dark, dank prison of 1594 in Seville, Spain, the setting for this wonderful, if a little bit confusing, musical.

Forget that this is amateur theater in small-town Texas. The PTC talent is absolutely amazing, and the voices — Michael McMillian as Sancho Panza, Martin Guerra as Padré, Emily Warwick as Antonia and Pam Valle as the Housekeeper — are as good as those in any playhouse anywhere. The voices of Lagrone, Loose and Siler are better than most.

“Man of La Mancha” is the musical adaptation of a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. It is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay, “I, Don Quixote,” which was, in turn, inspired by Don Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th Century masterpiece, “Don Quixote.” It tells the story of the “mad” knight, Don Quixote, as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition.

The original 1965 Broadway production ran for 2,329 performances and won five Tony Awards. The show’s signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” is a standard headed for “classic” status.
Lagrone’s rendition of it is great.

A seven-year veteran of Metroplex theater (including years at “The Promise” in Glen Rose) Lagrone is making his PTC debut as Cervantes. Imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he thinks of himself as Don Quixote, a knight who saves damsels in distress and fights dragons that are actually windmills. The fair damsel in his life is Aldonza, a lady of ill repute, played by Loose (and Milette Siler). While others see her for what she is, Quixote sees her as a fine lady.

As Cervantes plans his defense for his trial, he devises a play that involves all the prisoners. I had a little trouble differentiating between the “play” and “real time,” but it really doesn’t matter because the songs are so good and some scenes are quite funny.

And congrats to director G. Aaron Siler and musical director Soni Barrus for staging some fight scenes, musical numbers and other maneuvers that are very clever.

And double congrats to G. Aaron Siler and JaceSon Barrus for the creative set that asks the audience to use a little imagination. The set never changes, but a few clever props and lighting techniques turn corners of the stage into a stable, a kitchen, a church and a bedroom.

PTC has presented a plethora of clever and imaginative props during its run of 67 shows since 2007, but the scene when Aldonza sings “What Does He Want of Me?” to a horse and donkey with moving parts is one of its best. The audience erupted in delightful and spontaneous applause the night I attended.

Kudos to Tina Barrus for costume design and to Parker Karrus for designing the horse heads.

But it’s the singing that matters and there are about 20 songs to enjoy.

If you haven’t heard him before, Lagrone can sing. His voice is sort of mellow-bold, commanding but not overpowering. He is perfect for Don Quixote and gets things going with an opening song accompanied by McMillian, who plays Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s manservant. McMillian does a good job throughout, bouncing off Lagrone’s lead to give him set-up lines. His treatment of “The Missive” is lively and fun.

If you haven’t heard her before, Loose can really, really sing. She’s played Aldonza with the Carnegie Players in 2008, and her familiarity of the role enables her to master it. She and Lagrone work well together, respecting each others’ time in the spotlight.

You’ll also enjoy the singing of Guerra, Warwick and Valle, especially in two numbers called “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” and “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”

Otherwise, PTC regulars attendees will recognize Solomon Abah, JaceSon Barrus, Jay Cornils, Luke Hunt and Jay Lewis in support roles.

Three words: Go see it.

An Exceptional Review of MAN OF LA MANCHA from Kristy Blackmon of The Column by John Garcia

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Plaza Theatre Company’s production of MAN OF LA MANCHA is in full swing. The show opened last weekend and will be playing through September 7th on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30pm and Saturday afternoons at 3pm. Read on for a spectacular recommendation of the show and then visit www.plaza-theatre.com or call 817-202-0600 to reserve.

_________________________MAN OF LA MANCHA_______________________

Reviewed by Kristy Blackmon, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

For all of the wonderful new shows, both musicals and plays, produced every
year, there will always be a special place for the old standards
from the glory days of mid-century American musical theatre. In the D/FW
metroplex, few companies rival Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne in this genre.
A mix of the company’s leadership, core group of both on and offstage talent,
the audience and theater space makes Plaza the land of milk and honey for those
musicals many of us know and love so well.

The one continual challenge for Plaza that I’ve seen is that their small
theater-in-the-round causes issues with staging and transitions.
I’ve written before about the blackouts necessitated by the quick and intricate
scene changes of complicated shows, and errors in judgment with the placement of
bulky set pieces that block the line of sight for significant portions of the
audience. In many cases, it’s just that the shows Plaza produces—these big, old
Broadway musicals in particular—have sets just as grand as their scores, and at
times they’re just too much for the small space.

All of these points taken together in consideration made Man of La Mancha,
currently running at Plaza through September 7, a near perfect show for this
theatre. Director G. Aaron Siler’s enthusiasm for the show was apparent from the
program’s Director’s Note and his opening speech to the audience. Man of La
Mancha is a different kind of musical, he advised those in the audience who were
unfamiliar with the show. Though this is very true, I don’t think the
qualification was necessary. Plaza’s production was enjoyable on 99% of all
fronts with or without an explanation.

Based on the canonical novel Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes, Man of La Mancha
puts a twist on the themes presented by Cervantes in the book by telling the
story as a play within a play. Cervantes, along with his faithful servant, is
imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition. In the squalid holding cell awaiting his
turn for questioning, he is forced to defend his possessions and his profession
against the other prisoners.

For his defense, he stages a re-enactment of his manuscript, which details the
story of one Alonso Quijana, a “crazy” old man who believes himself a
knight-errant by the name of Don Quixote de la Mancha, set forth on a quest for
justice, chivalry, truth, honor and faith.

The play-within-a-play was as the absolute perfect theatrical genre for Plaza’s
limited space. Siler never let the audience lose sight of the “play within a
play” concept. In past shows, the audience was lost every time there was a
blackout to change scenes. With Man of La Mancha, such transitions were
unnecessary; the settings of the real play never changes. We are always in the
Spanish prison watching Cervantes and his fellow inmates stage the show. For
their part, the inhabitants of the prison improvise set pieces, props, and in
many cases, costumes from anything that’s lying around which then becomes part
of the action in which the audience partakes. Thus, there are no blackouts and
any slips with most of the technical elements can be excused as part of the
clumsiness of the improvising inmates. This keeps the pace of the show hopping
quickly along, avoiding the pacing problems of some other Plaza shows I’ve seen.

The set, props and costumes were almost inextricably intertwined due to the
“homemade” nature of the production. A basket becomes a horse mask, a rag
becomes a silken scarf and two twirling broomsticks held perpendicular to each
other become the arms of a windmill. Again, the limited resources worked to the
advantage of the show, eliminating any need to break the spell. The set was
simple: a raised square platform in the middle of the stage surrounded by
barrels and boulders and a small recessed niche in one corner for highlighted
vignettes. Designed by Siler and JaceSon P. Barrus, the set was extremely
versatile, evocative and easy for the actors to maneuver into place.

Much of the staging was dependent not just on the set but also on the lighting.
This was the only part of the production that fell short. Siler, who designed
both the light and the sound, made heavy use of isolated spotlights for dramatic
effect and to highlight action he wished to be separate from the larger scene of
the prison.

Unfortunately, the actors failed to find their light the majority of the time,
leaving spots to fall on their noses and toes. At first I thought this was a
lack of experience on the part of some of the younger players since finding the
light is a lesson learned by the greenest actors. However, the problem spanned
the cast, from rookies to veterans, leaving me puzzled as to the reason or the
solution. The moments when the lighting technique worked were powerful;
unfortunately, those moments were too few and far between.

Like the set, the props by Tammie Phillips were flexible enough to be used for
multiple purposes when needed. Tina Barrus’ costume design was impeccable as
always. From prisoners to highborn ladies, priests to evil sorcerers, and nobles
to scholars, the costumes were spot on and beautiful. The costume and prop
designs needed to work hand in hand in Man of La Mancha, and it was difficult to
tell at times where Phillips’ design ended and Barrus’ began. The perfect
example of overlap between the two was the brilliant pair of horse heads worn by
two members of the prison ensemble and produced by Parker Barrus, which drew
laughter and a smattering of applause upon their first appearance.

Siler’s sound design was very effective, most notably in two ways. First, it was
perfectly evocative of action occurring offstage. During the first half of the
play, for instance, Don Quixote fights a group of giants, which are actually
windmills, offstage, and the sound effects painted a clear picture of the action
the audience couldn’t see. Second, and most important, the music never once
drowned out a performer despite the sometimes breathy vocals of some of the
players. Neither was it overwhelmed by the louder members of the cast. Many
don’t realize what a tricky mix this is to achieve, but Siler obviously
understood his technique. This was one of the first shows in a long while during
which I had no complaints about the sound.

Joel Lagrone gave a near perfect performance as both Miguel Cervantes,
the gentleman poet, and Don Quixote, the dotty old character played by
Cervantes, who wears a shaving basin on his head, carries a sword twisted into a
curlicue and totters around in a world of make-believe while still,
inexplicably, maintaining an unflagging air of dignity. Lagrone was a joy to
watch as he transformed back and forth from Cervantes to Quixote. Both of these
characters had their own forms of courage, wisdom and faith in humanity, and in
both roles Lagrone was a star. His Cervantes was refined without being dandified
and well-spoken without being snobbish, and his Don Quixote was remarkable;
suddenly, with the acquisition of some white in his beard and a battered armor
chest plate, Lagrone aged twenty years and became the perfect gentle, faithful
and noble old man to show us how beautiful the world can be if we just choose to
see the good in life. His rendition of “Impossible Dream” was tremendously
touching as an old, feeble madman becomes, in that moment, supremely noble and
emblematic of all the grace that man is capable of.

Shannon Loose’s portrayal of Aldonza, whom Don Quixote calls his lady Dulcinea,
was richly nuanced and ran the gamut of emotion. Aldonza’s anger and despair
over her miserable lot in life was palpable and her transformation from a
hardened, prickly cynic to a woman moved to trust in the “impossible dream” was
in turns brilliantly comical, utterly heartbreaking and, ultimately, inspiring.
Loose’s raspy, gritty speaking voice morphed into a cool, clear soprano that was
surprising and very successful. The contrast served to highlight her
vulnerability in songs such as “What Does He Want from Me” and her “Impossible
Dream” reprise. During less gentle songs, like the raunchy “It’s All the Same”,
it was less effective; the transitions were a little rough and inconsistent.

However, all is forgiven during Aldonza’s dramatic turning point mid-way through
the show when her faith in Don Quixote, her fellow man and herself is questioned
violently.Loose’s performance is devastating as she pours all of Aldonza’s self-loathing,

hopelessness and rage into the angry confessional “Aldonza”. By the show’s close,
 however, just as Alonso Quijana has transformed himself into Don Quixote, so has

Aldonza transformed herself into his lady, the noble, pure and faithful Dulcinea.

If Lagrone is the ultimate example of a seasoned performer well-acquainted with
his craft, and Loose is a musical actress at her peak, Michael McMillian as
Sancho Panza is a young talent with a wealth of potential. Sweet and earnest,
with a knack for comedic timing and the rare ability to stay interesting while
not detracting when he isn’t the center of the action, McMillian is a future
powerhouse. His vocals were perfect, his energy unfaltering and his depiction of
Panza was downright heartwarming. When Dulcinea asks why he’s following this
doddering old man around as he pursues visions of lunacy, Panza answers with the
genuine (and slightly bemused) solo “I Like Him” (listed in the Plaza program as
“The Missive”). McMillian pulled off Panza’s sincere loyalty, easygoing nature
and slight air of naiveté with ease. His physical comedy never missed and he
consistently held his own while never seeming to compete with Lagrone; showing
not just maturity but also wisdom as any attempt to upstage the leading man
playing either Cervantes or Quixote would surely have been cringe-worthy.

Every single cast member, in fact, was impressive: versatile, energetic, engaged
and capable of making the audience laugh and their eyes mist over. Man of La
Mancha is a brilliant show, but like many brilliant pieces of theatre, it falls
flat without a director and cast who understand its layers of meaning and how
best to convey them. Unlike other musicals where a grand score, intricate dance
numbers or extravagant sets and costumes carry the show, the cast of this
musical is what makes or breaks it.

Martin Guerra as Padre, the conflicted village priest from Alonso Quijana’s
home, did a fantastic job showcasing his character’s internal battle between
believing what society tells him is “sane” and his inability to see any harm in
Alonso Quijana’s fantasies. His gentle rendition of “To Each His Dulcinea” was a
calm and contemplative moment that gave the show a nice rest between adventures.

Luke Hunt was wonderfully pompous as Dr. Carasco, Alonso Quijana’s scholarly and
snobbish soon-to-be nephew, who devises a cruel scheme to rid the old man of his
delusions. He is the character the audience loves to hate.

His intended bride, Antonia, is played by Emily Warwick, a young woman with a
beautiful voice and the ability to switch between sniffling noblewoman and
guffawing low-born prisoner with ease. Doug Henrie, as both the “Governor” of
the prison and the Innkeeper in the play, showed a softness of heart covered by
varying degrees of bluster, and the group of men who make up the Muleteers who
frequent his establishment (both the prison and the inn) ranged from amusingly
ribald to frighteningly vicious.

The beauty of Man of La Mancha is that it encourages us to hope and to believe
in nobility and justice. In an age where the normal mode of human interaction is
cynical and full of suspicion, where it seems as though everyone from
politicians to strangers on the Internet are determined to make us lose our
faith in the innate goodness of people, we need our Don Quixotes. We need our
quests and impossible dreams. Plaza’s production of this show reemphasized the
timelessness of a story that remains as relevant today as it was in the
sixteenth century.

An Excellent Review of BYE BYE BIRDIE from Paul Gnadt of The Star Group

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We’ve reached the final weekend of BYE BYE BIRDIE at Plaza Theatre Company. And if you haven’t yet seen this amazing cast in action there’s still time. Read this excellent review of the show by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 to reserve your seats – you’ll be glad you did. Now, read on:

HURRY, THERE’S STILL TIME TO SEE BYE BYE BIRDIE
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

Hurry. There’s still time to see “Bye Bye Birdie,” the current production of the Plaza Theatre Company at the Plaza Theatre in downtown Cleburne.

PTC is also simultaneously presenting “Smoke on the Mountain” at the Cleburne Conference Center, which, given its impressive stable of talent, is no problem.

While “Smoke” is about the Sanders family, “Birdie” is a family affair as directed by the mother-daughter team of Tina and Tabitha Barrus, with the husband and wife team of Josh and Caitlin Leblo in the lead roles of songwriter/agent Albert Peterson and his secretary/girlfriend Rose Alvarez.

There is also a cast of what seems like thousands but are actually students of PTC’s summer teen dance camp.

After two weeks of intense training, the teens explode with boundless energy in numerous musical numbers that feature clever choreography and some really neat tap dancing, especially in “Put on a Happy Face”.

Everyone who grew up a fan of Elvis Presley (like me) is sure the musical is based on his leaving for the Army, and there is plenty of evidence to support that: the hairstyle of rock ‘n’ roll star Conrad Birdie (played by Brandon McCormick), the twist on the name Birdie, which could be Elvis’ rival Conway Twitty, and the prominent and very funny scene involving the “Ed Sullivan Show,” on which Elvis’ twisting hips were famously kept off screen.

Anyway, here’s the plot.

Albert Peterson (Josh Leblo) is in deep hair jell because his meal ticket has been drafted into the Army. Albert’s secretary, Rose, (Caitlin Leblo), creates a publicity stunt to have Birdie record and perform a song — “One Last Kiss” —  before he is sent overseas. The song is to be sung on the Sullivan show with one girl from Birdie’s fan club getting the last kiss.

The lucky girl is Kim McAfee (Madeline Smith), 15, from Sweet Apple, Ohio, where Kim has a boyfriend (double-cast with Parker Barrus and Jesse Bowron) who thinks Kim likes Conrad more than she does him.

Conrad is a guest at Kim’s house, where her father, Harry (played hilariously by G. Aaron Siler) hates Conrad until told they are all going to be on the Sullivan show doing a remote from the house.

During the telecast, a fight breaks out and it’s funny, funny stuff. Be sure and keep your eye on Siler, a master of physical comedy.

It all works out in the end, it just takes a little while and 24 song, dance, song and dance, and tap dance numbers to get there during the two-hour performance, including the 15-minute intermission.

This is a good one to just sit back, relax and enjoy the music and dancing.
From a book by Michael Stewart, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, “Bye Bye Birdie” features Glenn Turner as musical director and Hanna Midkiff as assistant camp director for the teen actors.

Costume design is by Kara Barnes, sound by Aaron Siler, lights by Cameron Barrus, with sets designed by Tina Barrus and constructed by JaceSon Barrus.

“Birdie” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Saturday through Aug. 3 at the Plaza Theatre, 111 N. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets — $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older, $14 for students and $13 for age 12 and under are available at the box office, or online at http://www.plaza-theatre.com, or by calling 817-202-0600.

The review of BYE BYE BIRDIE from The Column by John Garcia

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BYE BYE BIRDIE is the current production at Plaza Theatre Company now Playing thru August 3rd. The show opened this past weekend to sold out houses and high-energy fun. Read on for a lovely review of the show by Bonnie K. Daman of The Column by John Garcia, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 to get your seats today. Congratulations to our BBB cast and crew for a wonderful opening and a terrific review.

__________________________BYE, BYE BIRDIE________________________

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

Swinging into the 1950s for its 66th production, Plaza Theatre Company presents Bye, Bye Birdie, a jumpin’ and jivin’ tribute to the Tony Award-winning musical. Full of passion, young love and zany characters, the theatre’s summer lineup of song and dance productions is off to a strong start. Bye, Bye Birdie features a solid lead cast and a teen-centric ensemble with plenty of hits and very few misses.

Setting precedence for the next two hours, a mob of star struck youngsters opens the show with squeals and earplug-worthy screams for Conrad Birdie, a singer who has been drafted into the Army. Fresh off their two-week summer camp, approximately twenty members of Plaza’s Teen Show Camp are given the opportunity to perform in Bye, Bye Birdie, with some appearing for the first time on stage. Plaza’s inclusion of the intensive class members, whose ages range from 13-18, into one of their mainstream shows is educationally sound but the overwhelming amount of ensemble members overcrowds the already small theater-in-the-round space. The group brings plenty of vocal power to the show but scenes with choreography, unless simplified, are sometimes messy and scene changes with such a large crowd can be chaotic. However, in the essence of presenting a perfectly clean show versus providing their students with an unforgettable experience, I prefer the latter.

Josh Leblo is pleasantly awkward and sheepish as momma’s boy Albert Peterson, the first of several New York characters. Leblo’s first big number, “Put on a Happy Face”, is barely an introduction to his musical talent but he does a decent job keeping up with the dancers. It isn’t until the second act that his performance becomes more natural with the character’s bumbling demeanor. The true moment where Leblo’s casting is solidified is during “Baby, Talk to Me”. His smooth, crooner voice is perfectly romantic as he attempts to woo Rose. While Leblo has excellent chemistry with Trich Zaitoon (as his mother) as Albert begins to stand up for himself, Leblo’s overall performance could add more variety to the character’s tone, breaking up Albert’s whiny and stressed out moments, of which there seem to be a lot. Perhaps that is why Leblos’s closing number stands out since his singing voice and romantic moments with Rose are in such stark contrast and feel honest.

As Rose Alvarez, Caitlin Leblo complements her part in the
Albert/Rose storyline with strength and bravado. Her take action, no nonsense approach to her relationship with Albert while moving the story along is well-orchestrated and Leblo easily becomes the show’s anchor. Her alto voice has a clear tone that projects beautifully in her upper register.

As the lead adult female, Leblo matches the elegance and class of the style of women from the 1950s (at times somewhat reminiscent of Rosemary Clooney) and brings some much needed maturity to the stage when comparing to the amount of teen characters and adults that act like teenagers. Leblo’s best performance is “Spanish Rose”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek song that has Rose, a local girl from Allentown, PA, sarcastically embellishing her Spanish heritage. Leblo is witty and delightful throughout the entire number, even contending with some breath-stealing choreography. Her softer moments are some of her best work and can be partly attributed to her connection with Josh Leblo.

Together, Josh and Caitlin Leblo (husband and wife offstage) have the best chemistry during their lovey-dovey moments. Go figure. Romance aside; the pair actually have good comedic timing and a natural rhythm to their dialogue as Albert and Rose. The final duet, “Rosie”, shows off their playfulness with and endearment of each other that would be nice to see glimpses of earlier on.

The seemingly ever-present thorn in Rose’s side comes in the form of Albert’s mother Mae Peterson. Played by Plaza veteran Trich Zaitoon, the brash, conniving mother of all mothers comes to life on stage in what’s sure to be an award-nominated performance. Zaitoon is masterful at embodying Mae Peterson, milking every ounce of pitying emotion she can from her son in order to get her way. She has the right amount of likeability mixed with some New York attitude that makes her character a standout role. Zaitoon’s swan song in Act II set to the militaristic song “Glory, Hallelujah”, is deliciously satisfying to watch.

Rounding out the New York cast is Brandon McCormick as Conrad Birdie, the most glorified character of Bye, Bye Birdie. For all the pomp and circumstance Birdie receives as a big time rock star, McCormick is underwhelming in his portrayal. His vocals are good and he has the look, however the character needs more pizzazz and more confidence. McCormick’s rendition of “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” shows that he can let loose and he garners a few laughs during an interchange with Mae Peterson. McCormick has the potential but needs more time to warm up to his character.

Leading the cast of Sweet Apple, OH, is the all-American MacAfee family. Madeline Smith plays fifteen-year-old Kim MacAfee, the lucky teen whom Conrad Birdie is set to kiss before going into the Army. Smith gives a great performance. Her too-mature-for-her-age attitude is perfectly delivered and she excels at being an overly-dramatic, coy, surly and bubbly teen, just a few examples of the character’s highs and lows. Smith handles them all with finesse.

G. Aaron Siler is an absolute scene stealer as Harry MacAfee. In a role made famous by the amazing Paul Lynde, Siler fills the character’s shoes so well and so honestly that he makes it all the more comical. Most of Siler’s great moments occur in his reactions to the actors around him. The breakfast scene in which Kim and Mrs. MacAfee prepare for Conrad is well-structured and rehearsed but it is Siler’s demeanor that makes the shtick work. The best reaction is during “Honestly Sincere” when all of Sweet Apple seems to have lost their sense of propriety except for Mr. MacAfee. Once again, Siler gives the audience a performance to remember and the entertainment keeps coming. From the Ed Sullivan Show scene to “Kids”, Siler can’t help but draw your attention.

The other half of the MacAfee family is Emily Warwick as the mother, Doris MacAfee, and Henry Cawood as little brother Randolph. Warwick is a powerhouse singer with few musical numbers to showcase her talent but among the small chorus and group numbers she has a beautiful, prominent voice you cannot miss. She displays a meekness and quirkiness to Mrs. MacAfee that balances well with Siler. She finds these small moments, such as during “Honestly Sincere” or during Kim’s telephone call, to bring those traits out and creates a gem of a character. Cawood’s performance as Randolph is a cross between Opie Taylor and little brother Randy from A Christmas Story. I typically view Randolph as a throw-away character to help round out the cast, but in Cawood’s case, this young actor can hold his own. He is feisty but sincere without being bratty, and boy can this kid sing! Cawood’s solo in the “Kids Reprise” is spot on and he is a joy to watch.

Among the throng of teens, one stand-out character is Scout Harrell as Ursula Merkle, Kim’s best friend and president of the Sweet Apple Conrad Birdie Fan Club. She certainly has the term “free-spirited” coined to her performance and to say that Harris exudes charisma and charm is an understatement. Ursula’s cringe-worthy personality is not for the timid. Harrell is bold in her choices and gives a phenomenal, spirited performance.

Directing the production is mother-daughter team Tina and Tabitha Barrus in their first co-directing project. Bye, Bye Birdie is a classic show that has been performed for over fifty years but Tina and Tabitha manage to utilize their large cast to bring this much-loved musical to the Plaza stage. It was interesting to see how the directors develop a plan to move the story along swiftly in such a small space and with several significant scene changes.

Perhaps the largest geographic scene change is traveling from the
New York City train station to Sweet Apple, OH, during “A Healthy, Normal, American Boy”.

In this instance, the larger cast works by splitting up the towns-
people roles, and with assistance from costuming and the projections from set design, the scene goes halfway across the country in mere seconds. The transition is smooth enough and it works.

Tina and Tabitha also find a few instances to put in a little extra charm and comical work. Following “Honestly Sincere”, the use of complete silence is smart and amusing as Rose crosses a plethora of fainted townspeople. The movement of Albert’s telephone booth during “Baby, Talk to Me” is another example of finding hidden moments to add a little corniness (as much as I love the sweetness of that song).

The ever-changing, versatile walls and ground floor of the stage are given a sleek black and blue makeover with Tina Barrus’ set design. The retro patterns remind me of old 50s and 60s television screens which would be fitting for the era and content of the show. Aside from one rotating panel, the entire set is continually constructed and deconstructed using wooden crates painted in an array of yellows, blues and pinks splattered with more paint. Barrus crafted chair backs and other furniture pieces into and on to the back of the crates, creating more ways to utilize each piece. The rotating panel is used for the majority of the show as a blank canvas upon which specific backgrounds are projected such the train stations and the MacAfee home. The movement of the set pieces is its own ballet.

Cameron Barrus’ light design is intricate and requires timing that must be matched by the actors during certain songs. “The Telephone Hour” is the most complicated musical number due to the amount of featured vocals. The other challenge for Barrus is working with Josh Leblo’s height and keeping his face and other surrounding actors out of his shadow such as in Albert and Rose’s opening scene.

Costumes by Kara Barnes are less poodle skirts and saddle shoes and more flattering skirts and blouses for the women. The choice to go against such a strong stereotype as I’ve seen previously with other Bye, Bye Birdie productions is surprising but it works in the show’s favor.

There’s more character definition for each female role through their costuming and Barnes also creates a noticeable difference between the residents of New York and Sweet Apple. Specific characters keep their signature looks, such as Mae Peterson’s oversized fur coat and Conrad Birdie’s cuffed jeans, white tee and coiffed hair.

In her debut as Choreographer for Plaza’s production, Faith Brown is tasked with a long list of scenes to showcase her dancers and make the actors look good while moving. From tap to swing, she does a commendable job working with the large cast and featuring her experienced performers. The opening scene gives a good look at how Brown is proficient at making twenty to thirty teenagers appear in synch. While most of the cast are actors who can move rather than dancers who can act, Brown doesn’t complicate the choreography any more than needed especially in the bigger group numbers, even though there are still a few stragglers.

The big tap number of the show, “Put on a Happy Face”, begins with Albert and two young girls, played by Eden Barrus and Emma Whitehorn, who are both exceptionally strong tappers. Their performance, which later includes David Midkiff, is just one highlight of the show. Josh Leblo holds his own even though it feels out of place at one point to have him lying on the ground with the teens. The choreography for the number is accomplished and the teen dance corps give a clean, crisp performance.

“Honestly Sincere” is the largest dance number of the show and Brown does not hold back from utilizing every inch of space or rotating dancers to showcase some partnering work.

In Act II, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” isn’t as big a dance number as expected but the performers are pared down to the dance corps.

Finally, Brown’s choreography for “Rosie”, Albert and Rose’s final duet, is charming, quaint and fits their scene perfectly.

Bye, Bye Birdie is a toe-tapping, head-bopping kind of musical … and that’s just what you’ll see from the audience. Not only will Plaza Theatre Company make you forget all about the hot, Texas heat but they’ll show you a rockin’ good time.

It’s Official: Critics Say DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS Is Big On Laughs

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DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is Now Playing at Plaza Theatre Company – and boy it it an outrageously funny show. Audiences and critics agree that this is a hilarious night of theatre that will leave you with a permanent smile on your face. Tickets are available for the show which plays thru June 22nd. Read the great review by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers and then give us a call to get your seats. 817-202-0600

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DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS at Plaza Theatre Company
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

The punch lines and physical comedy are funny enough, but add in cute (and serious) songs sung by the excellent voices of G. Aaron Siler, Milette Siler, Camille Shaw, Clyde Berry and Michael D. Durrington, and the sum is an enjoyable evening at the Plaza Theatre Company’s presentation  of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” the current production at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

The 1988 DRS movie, starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, wasn’t a musical comedy, so you don’t expect the songs. But they fit. Some are fast-paced and cleverly-worded (“Chimp in a Suit,” “Oklahoma?”), others are poignant (“Nothing is Too Wonderful to be True”), and some are down right hilarious (“Ruffhousin’ Mit Shüffhausen.”)

As PTC regulars have come to take for granted, the ensemble pieces are perfectly timed, the costumes are colorful and the set and lighting make you forget the you’re in a theater with only 160 seats and a stage that is just a little larger than your garage.

“Scoundrels” is about two con men — Lawrence Jameson (Siler) and Freddy Benson (Berry) -— who live on the French Riviera.

Jameson is a sophisticated con artist who targets rich women, while Benson is a down-on-his-luck crook who swindles any woman he can with stories about his very-ill grandmother. They meet on a train (the PTC’s version of which is two small dining car tables and a conductor) and decide to work together, but soon discover that the little French village is too small for both of them and one must leave.

They bet on which one can swindle $50,000 from young Christine Colgate (double cast with Kelly Nickell but played by Shaw in the show I attended) with the winner getting the money and the loser leaving town.

Benson wins Colgate’s sympathy and heart when he shows up in a wheel chair because of dance trauma, needing $50 grand to be cured by Dr. Shüffhausen. But Shüffhausen turns out to be Jameson, who also falls in love with Colgate while trying to prevent her from giving the money to Benson who doesn’t want her to give the money to Jameson.

A side plot involves Thibault (Durrington) the police inspector who is an accomplice of Jameson, and Omaha, Neb., rich girl Muriel Eubanks (Siler), who have some funny scenes and good music together.

(Typical joke — Thibault to Jameson about a potential target: “Does she have money?”

“Her family is in oil,” Jameson replies.

“Crude?”

“She’s a little pushy.”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know there’s a surprise ending, which I won’t reveal here, but is very well done on the PTC stage.

From a book by Jeffrey Lane, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and based on the movie written by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning, PTC’s Scoundrels is directed by Luke Hunt with choreography by Rachel Hunt and sets by JaceSon Barrus.

The supporting cast and dancers go through numerous changes of the Tina Barrus-designed costumes, which add to the spectacle.

You may have heard that other productions of “Scoundrels” by other theatre companies are full of sexual innuendos and double entendres, but not the family-friendly PTC.
This one is for everyone and it’s a good one. See it.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through June 22 at the Plaza Theatre, 111 N. Main St. in Cleburne.
Tickets — $15 for adults, $14 for age 65-plus and students age 13-college, and $13 for age 12 and under — are on sale 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the box office or online at www.plaza-theatre.com.

A Great Belated Review of PILLOW TALK – (Sorry though, it’s Sold Out)

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Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers has written a lovely review of PILLOW TALK. Congratulations to the cast and crew for their fantastic work. Unfortunately, (or fortunately I suppose), the show is Sold Out through it’s closing tomorrow night. So if you’ve seen it – you know what Paul means. If you’ve got reservations – way to go. If you missed it – well you missed out on a fun and funny comedy. (Be sure to get your reservations early for DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS). Now on the the review.

PILLOW TALK Will Keep You Wide Awake Laughing
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

Growing up in St. Louis, a long, long time ago, our telephone was on a party line. I remember when my mother wanted to make a phone call, she would delicately lift the receiver and place it to her ear to listen for a conversation by the strangers with whom we shared the same circuit.

Many times she would return the receiver to its cradle, frown, and try again in a few minutes. It was considered a violation of social etiquette to listen to the other conversation.

One day, as one would expect in a major Midwest metropolis, we got a private line, apparently a lot sooner than high-rise apartment dwellers in New York City in 1960, the setting for the very funny and cleverly-staged “Pillow Talk,” the current production by the Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne.

The comedy’s premise wouldn’t work in today’s taken-for-granted communication world of Caller ID, cell phones, emails and social media, but telephone trauma is what happens to successful Manhattan interior designer Jan Morrow (double-cast with Kristi Mills and, on the night I attended, Joy White) who shares a party line with music composer Brad Allen, played by the versatile David Goza, most recently seen in Plaza’s “See How They Run.”

It’s hard not to compare the Plaza people with the stars of the Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall 1959 movie, and there’s a certain comfort when our expectations are met. It’s even harder when Day’s songs play before the show and during intermission.

Mills and White are both blonde, slim and attractive; Goza is hunkish; Michael Hatch is fast and flippant as Jonathan Forbes, Morrow’s wealthy wooer (double-cast with JaceSon Barrus), who manages to find time to direct this production); and Amy Sorter is perfect as Morrow’s dry-witted, wisecracking and wise maid.

Basically, Morrow can’t place a phone call from her apartment because neighbor Brad has the line tied up talking to his many girlfriends. When they meet at a party, he decides to add her to his little black book but wants to keep his identity hidden. To do so, he poses as Rex Stetson, a wealthy Texan with a drawl is so bad it draws laughs from the audience of real Texans.
Unknown to Jan, Jonathan is Brad’s old college buddy and current Broadway benefactor, which results in some funny situations.

As PTC fans have come to expect, director and Plaza co-founder Barrus makes clever use of the theater-in-the-round setting by having numerous phone calls made from the steps leading to theater seats, thus freeing the stage for set changes while audience attention is focused on the dialogue.

Also in the cast are Steven Lindsay, quickly becoming a fan favorite, as Pierot, and the reliable Jay Cornils in two roles.

This is a good one, but you have only this weekend to see it.

Adapted from a screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, which was based on a story by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, adapted to the stage by Christopher Sergel, “Pillow Talk,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday at the Plaza Theatre, 111 N. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets — $15 for adults, $14 for age 15-plus and students age 13-college, and $13 for age 12 and under — are on sale 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the box office or online at http://www.plaza-theatre.com.

The Column by John Garcia’s review of PlazaCo’s PILLOW TALK

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We at PlazaCo experienced a wonderful opening weekend of PILLOW TALK this last weekend. The show is as fun and delightful as we hoped it would be – and it seems critics agree. Below is the review of the show by Joel Taylor for The Column by John Garcia. Read on for a great review then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to make your reservations to see PILLOW TALK.

____________________________PILLOW TALK__________________________

Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Theater Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Before the invention and ultimate mass use of cell phones, PDA’s and even pagers, there was the landline, which is, of course, directly connected to a telephone line outlet in the wall. Many still have and use a landline in their homes or offices. During the early use of landlines, the demand for service was growing so quickly that the telephone companies could not keep up with the demand for everyone to have their own connected line. So the party line was created in which two or more parties shared the same line. At times, this led to confusion as to who had priority use of the phone, and what conversations you could have on the phone as the other party could easily listen in. What really helps the plot of the play, Pillow Talk, is the element of the telephone party line.

The stage version of Pillow Talk was adapted from the 1959 screen play by the same name. In 1959, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall starred together in the very successful film version. Initially, Rock Hudson was hesitant to appear in the film because he was primarily a stock leading man and had not previously made a comedy. However, after reading the final script with its clever and witty dialogue, he changed his mind and agreed to do the film. The director of the film, Michael Gordon, advised Hudson to play the role straight, saying, “No matter how absurd the situations may appear to the viewer, to the people involved it’s a matter of life and death. Comedy is no laughing matter.” Being the first time that Day and Hudson worked together, it was quickly apparent that the two had comedy chemistry. When asked why he thought the two made such a good team, Hudson stated that for comedy to work, first of all the two people have to truly like each other. Then the two parties have to have strong personalities, which is very important to comedy, so that there is a sort of tug of war over who is going to put it over on the other, who is going to get the last word, and as a fencing match between two opponents of the opposite sex, who in the end are going to fall into bed together.

In Pillow Talk, Jan Morrow is a successful interior decorator who shares a party line on her home phone with Brad Allen, a songwriter who spends most of his time on the phone, singing to his various girlfriends. This becomes an ongoing annoyance for Jan who needs to use the phone for her interior design business. Soon the two are locked in an escalating feud even though they’ve never actually met each other. Meanwhile, Brad learns that his friend, Jonathan Forbes, wants to date Jan. When Brad finally sees Jan in a nightclub, he is surprised to discover how attractive she is and decides to introduce himself as Rex Stetson from Texas. Eventually, Brad succeeds in making Jan fall in love with him though she doesn’t learn his true identity until much later, thereby adding a new twist to an already funny plot.

The same funny plot and show is being performed by Plaza Theatre Company located in the heart of downtown Cleburne. Most of the shows at the theater are performed in the round and the current production of Pillow Talk is no exception.

Before the lights dim for the start of the show, the audience is treated to songs by Doris Day and other period appropriate romantic songs. In fact, I kept my seat during intermission, just so that I could listen to the music.

Jaceson P. Barrus designed the stage area that is very colorful and effectively used. Prior to the start of the show, a skyline of office buildings is projected on the black walls of the performance space. The stage area is split between the respective apartments of Jan and Brad. Each area is decorated with the look and flair of the personality of the occupants. Jan’s apartment includes a coat rack, desk area, and chairs that are covered with bright colors and polka dots and other patterns that would seem artistic during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Brad’s apartment is dominated by a piano that is frequently used throughout the show. Where Jan’s apartment is obviously more feminine, Brad’s apartment has a much more masculine look. And though they both share the same stage, they are definite spaces. Each entrance and exit area is used for various scenes that include a wall that pivots to transform part of Brad’s apartment into the office of the telephone company.

In another scene, a reproduction of a red telephone booth is moved into the space that had been used as the entrance to Jan’s kitchen. During a few scenes, the furniture is quickly moved from both apartments and is transformed into a nightclub and restaurant. Of course, prominently featured in each apartment is the telephone with its round dial.

As visually stunning and effective as the set design is, it is matched by the costume design by Tina Barrus. The actors are impeccably adorned in the period sweaters, fedoras, suits and overcoats. The women are wearing colorful business and evening attire that is believable enough to compare with the film of the same name. Or, even the TV show Mad Men that is set in the same time period as this production.

Above the performance space is a large grid holding hundreds of lights. Ok, maybe not hundreds, But it may seem that way. As the entire performance area can be covered by a variety of lighting schemes. The lighting schemes are put to good use during this production as the entire performing area, including entrances, exits and off stage areas are used as performance space. Each are is adequately lit with spot lighting as well as varies shades that are effectively used for the right setting and mood.

The sound was generally not a problem in such an intimate space. Though, it appeared that many of the actors were wearing wireless microphones, they really were not needed. In the one instance were a wireless microphone being used cut out, the actor simply raised their voice until the unit started working again and this did not detract from any of the pacing or timing of the show.

Each of the actors in the production is well cast for their respective roles.

Steven Lindsey, as Pierot is a good compliment to the energetic youthfulness of Jan. His dry wit and almost chameleon way in which Lindsey is able to use different characteristics and demeanors with various characters on stage make this a fun character to watch. With Jan, Pierot is business-minded and almost a fatherly figure. But when customers such as Mrs. Walters show up he becomes the suave and cultured fashion designer with a French accent.

Joan Gracey is delightful as Mrs. Walters, a customer that wants to employ Jan and Mr. Pierot to redecorate her house. Humorously, she seems oblivious to what most people would consider good taste. The audience is first treated to her fashion mistakes when she wants to turn a priceless Chinese urn into a lamp. Gracey brings a consistent frumpiness and a certain style, perhaps best described as anti-style or simply bad taste to create a Mrs. Walters that is enjoyable to watch. Gracey very correctly plays this role “straight” in order to allow the comedy to work.

Michael Hatch often reminds me of Tony Randall with his portrayal of Jonathan. Hatch handles the humor and dialogue well with his interactions with Brad, Jan and Alma. He balances the slight arrogance with a dash of self-deprecation to bring out the humor in the various situations.

Amy Wolf Sorter is a rare treat as Alma, Jan’s nosy housekeeper. Sorter uses the right amount of sarcasm, sympathy and occasional interference to bring humor into each scene in which she participates. From when she nonchalantly informs Jan that she listens in on the telephone extension, then offers her unasked for comments, to her involvement with Brad in a final plot, she understand and expresses the nuances of the humor in each situation.

Both Kristi Mills and David Goza are well cast in the lead roles of Jan and Brad/Rex, respectively. They blend well together and display more and more of the chemistry needed for a successful comedy and the production progressed through the evening.

During the first act, Mills seems overly energetic. This causes some of the early scenes to lack the right amount of comedic timing and tug of war/give and take needed to maximize each comedic situation. During the second act, Mills performance becomes more relaxed and comfortable and is thoroughly enjoyable to watch as she adroitly handles each scene with the conflict needed to create good comedy.

Whereas Mills is sometimes overly energetic, Goza is less than energetic in the first act. This causes an imbalance in the comedy scale. Though, as the show progresses, so does his energy balance and handling of each scene. His transitions from Brad Allen to Rex Stetson are fun to watch and bring laughter from a Texas audience that appreciates what real Texans are like, instead of Texans that are “made in New York City”.

There were some miscues and a few apparent dropped lines that temporarily distracted me from the verbal and physical humor that was taking place on stage. In one instance, when Jonathan is leaving Jan’s apartment, Hatch makes a comment about Rex Stetson, though Jan had not yet disclosed his name. Welcome to live theatre where things happen unexpectedly on stage during productions. Beyond these early in the run bloopers, the show is funny and very well performed by all. Pillow Talk’s actors have various levels of experience and a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Overall, the actors present a well-directed and performed show. Plaza Theatre Company’s production of PILLOW TALK is charmingly cute, making for a good date night.

The Column by John Garcia’s Review of [TITLE OF SHOW] APROPOS – by Jeremy Osborne

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We’ve received our first review of [TITLE OF SHOW] APROPOS today. And while the writer of the review does question Plaza’s decision to produce this play, his praise of the quality of our production is immense. We are always very grateful for the critical perspective that The Column by John Garcia provides. And even though Mr. Osborne questions our decision to produce [TITLE OF SHOW] APROPOS, we are thrilled with the quality of the production as well as the outstanding performances.

We are also very honored to have this exceptional play on our stage. Though we know we are taking a risk to present something outside of the “norm” for our audience, we feel the music and the message of [TITLE OF SHOW] APROPOS is a story worth telling – and we stand by that decision. Read on for the review of [TITLE OF SHOW] APROPOS by Jeremy William Osborne of The Column by John Garcia, and then make your reservations to see the show by visiting www.plaza-theatre.com or by calling 817-202-0600.

“Plaza Theatre Company has a reputation for putting on some of the highest quality shows in the region, and with this musical they continue building that reputation.” ~ Jeremy William Osborne of The Column by John Garcia

Reviewed performance on Saturday, March 16th, 2013

Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Theater Critic
For John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

_______________________[TITLE OF SHOW] APROPOS______________________

[Title of Show] is the mostly true story of two writers in New York, attempting to create a new, original musical in three weeks. They recruit two lady friends to help bring the show together. When the show is accepted to the New York Musical Theatre Festival and later produced off-Broadway, tensions rise between the four friends as artistic choices are weighed against commercial success.

[Title of Show] Apropos at Plaza Theatre Company is excellently presented and will make new fans out of anybody who hasn’t experienced the original, salty cast recording. For thoseIMG_5844 who have experienced the original version, changes made in the script can prove irritating.

The “Apropos” (or clean version) has been modified from the original by the authors for general audiences. However, there are some mis-steps made in the modifications. Clean up the language, of course, that’s understandable. Take out Heidi stripping down to her bra in the Festival Medley, that’s acceptable. However, the choice to leave, in the reference to whores in Nine People’s Favorite Things, while cutting any reference to the main characters’ homosexuality is baffling and offensive.

The implication is that whores are apropos but homosexuality is not. That decision, plus the irony of even putting on a show where the main theme is to not compromise integrity, highlighted in “Die Vampire, Die!” and “Nine People’s Favorite Things”, that is compromised for the sake of selling tickets to delicate audiences, is aggravating.

IMG_5836It is understandable a theatre in a small rural town in Texas would choose to play it safe and do a show that is more accessible to the local population. However, [Title of Show] is not a show that should be used in this way. If Plaza Theatre Company feels their audience could not accept the full version of [Title of Show], they should have chosen another show for their season rather than present the watered down version of an otherwise great musical.

Play choice and writing aside, [Title of Show] is excellent in every way and what we’ve come to expect from Plaza Theatre Company. The performance area is near vacant, as the script calls for only four chairs and a few props to be used in the most technically simple musical ever written. I wonder if giving G. Aaron Siler a set design credit in the script is meant to be an industry joke.

The direction is wonderful & uses every part of the space effectively. Even the most abstract scenes are choreographed simply but potently.IMG_5915

“Monkeys and Playbills” is the stand-out scene of the show, with Heidi and Susan taking on ethereal qualities, influencing Jeff and Hunter’s creative process.

The use of lighting, a multimedia video presentation, and modern dance elements come together to create a memorable scene.

As in most productions with sparse scenic elements, the lighting for [Title of Show] takes on an even greater role. With well-defined play areas, allowing different scenes to happen simultaneously as in “What Kind of Girl is She?”, and exceptional color choices highlighting the moods and themes of the scenes demonstrated in “The Tony Award Song” and “Dream Sequence”, the lighting is the true technical star of the show.

The actors each perform their roles masterfully, pulling the audience in to their characters’ world and not letting go until the finale.

IMG_5825They inhabited the roles so well it was easy to think they were actually playing themselves.

David Cook and Jonathan Metting as Jeff and Hunter, the writers, are completely natural in their interactions with each other. Their jokes and arguments are as realistic as would be expected from the original cast members. Their hope is palpable in “Part of it All” and frustration is crystal clear in “Awkward Photo Shoot”.

Daron Cockerell and Milette Siler play Heidi and Susan, Jeff and Hunter’s friends brought on to round out the script.

Siler, as Susan, voices concerns of not being able to measure up to the musical talent of the rest of the cast, punctuated when she demonstrates her inability to find a note in a harmony during “Filling Out the Form”. However, she is given great opportunities to shine with “Die Vampire, Die!”, and a featured section of “September Song”. These opportunities are not wasted and Siler displays greater confidence in her performance than does her character.

Cockerell comes into the part of Heidi confident and capable. Her grand finale of “I am Playing Me” is stunning. She nearly brings the house down, both musically and comically, stoppingIMG_6082 the show in her duet with Siler in “Secondary Characters”. “A Way Back to Then” is touching and heartfelt. It seems there is nothing this woman can’t do on stage.

Diane Stewart is in a quiet corner of the stage, alone for most of the show. Her main purpose is to provide the musical accompaniment on the piano but every once in a while her character, Mary, is given a line to participate in the scene. As the musical director, Stewart has ensured all the actors sound incredible and she is flawless on the piano.

IMG_6015It is worth the drive to Cleburne to see [Title of Show] Apropos no matter where in the metroplex you call home. The production features fantastic performances that keep the audience engaged. Plaza Theatre Company has a reputation for putting on some of the highest quality shows in the region, and with this musical they continue building that reputation.

A very fine critique of THE SOUND OF MUSIC from Kristy Blackmon of The Column by John Garcia

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THE SOUND OF MUSIC has received another solid recommendation – this from Kristy Blackmon of The Column by John Garcia. Tickets for the show are going extremely fast, but there are still some dates with availability. The show plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30pm and Saturday afternoons at 3pm THROUGH MARCH 9th. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by visiting www.plaza-theatre.com or by calling 817-202-0600. Now read on for a very fine review of the show:

_______________________THE SOUND OF MUSIC_________________________

Reviewed by Kristy Blackmon, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

I’m not sure if there’s a musical out there more beloved by audiences everywhere than The Sound of Music. We grew up singing it. The role of Maria, originated on stage by the late Mary Martin and on film by the incomparable Julie Andrews, is familiar to generations of musical theater lovers. It pits nuns against Nazis, and the nuns win. An innocent young ingénue melts the ice cold heart of a widower naval captain. And above all, it revolves around seven adorable and charming children who steal your heart with songs that stay in your head forever.

It’s a huge show and there’s no escaping that. It isn’t a show that can be done in a minimalistic style. The settings range from mansions to abbeys to actual mountainsides and the cast is unavoidably large. There are nuns and novices, Nazis and Hitler’s youth, Austrian gentry and common folk. There are elaborate puppet shows and ballroom scenes with couples dancing the Lindler and music festivals in Salzburg. So it isn’t exactly the most logical choice for a small theater-in-the-round in Cleburne, Texas. Still, if any such theater could pull it off, it’s Plaza Theatre.

And for the most part, they do, mainly through brilliant direction from team of Jodie and Soni Barrus, and their smart casting of the seven Von Trapp children and Meredith Browning as Maria. Browning is utterly charming and perfectly idealistic. Her enthusiasm is catching, and her energy is unflagging. Through the first act, which has almost non-stop song after song for her and the Von Trapp children, she holds the show together with her youthful passion and sense of fun. She does not do it alone, however. A huge round of applause should be given to the seven child actors who play Captain Von Trapp’s children. They are talented, well-rehearsed, and utterly loveable from the first time they are introduced until they bravely prepare for their march over the Alps into Switzerland to escape the Nazis at the show’s close.

In fact, I didn’t fully recognize their contribution until the second act. This is where the limitations of Plaza’s small space are most evident Plaza’s transitions are seamless, like masterfully choreographed dances. Set Designer JaceSon P. Barrus performed wonders. The flowers and boulders of the Austrian Alps make way for the stark and religious confines of the Abbey, which in turn morphs into the sumptuous parlor of the Von Trapp mansion.

There are the gardens, both the terrace where the machinations of Frau Schraeder and Max Detweiler play out as well as the infamous solarium where Liesl and Rolf sweetly sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” There is the ballroom where the Austrian nobility dance while Nazi Germany steals control of their country out from under them, and the Captain and Maria fall in love while teaching the Lindler to Kurt; the exterior churchyard of the Abbey where the Von Trapp family hides from the pursuing German soldiers; the grand Abbey interior where the Captain and Maria are married; Maria’s bedroom which appears only for one pivotal scene during which the unforgettable “Raindrops on Roses” is sung and she devises her plan to make play clothes for the children out of her curtains. The sets are impeccable and the transitions unimpeachable.

However, there is something lost in every blackout, even when the recorded orchestra never skips a beat, thanks to Sound Designer G. Aaron Siler. The first act of the show is a constant tease, pulling the audience in and then letting them go during another scene transition. In a larger space, one part of the stage can fade to black while the lights come up on another part, on another set and another scene. In a space as small as the Plaza, though, the only option is constant blackouts, and it unfortunately affected the pace of the show negatively, though not enough to detract from the audience’s enjoyment.

Adding to the technical excellence is Tina Barrus’ costumes. I don’t know how the Plaza does it, but every time I see a show at this tiny theater out in the Texas prairie, I am blown away by the costumes. Barrus surpasses anything I’ve yet seen there. The nuns, the aristocrats, the Nazis, and the servants are period perfect and beautifully clothed. The costumes of the Von Trapp children, especially, are supremely clever and masterfully executed. Their first appearance in matching uniforms gradually gives way to the play clothes Maria crafts for them from curtains, and eventually to outfits specific to each child.

Where they are identical when we first see them, by the second act they each have their own personality shining through in their costumes.

Even when the script necessitates they be dressed similarly, such as their performance at the music festival or the Von Trapp wedding, the costumes are beautifully designed and crafted. Maria’s wedding dress is exquisite, managing to be both opulent and modest at the same time, and Georg, appearing for the first and only time in his captain’s uniform, is absolutely dashing. It’s early in the season still, but I can’t imagine not giving a nod to Tina Barrus when it’s time for next year’s Column Award nominations.

The musical aspect of this show is phenomenal. The nuns, led by Kathy Lemons as the Mother Abbess, have an almost transcendent quality to their a cappella numbers, and the classic “(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria” is perfectly harmonized. One or two of the sisters were suffering from the allergy epidemic that’s plaguing most of North Texas at the moment, but apart from a few missed notes in the higher registers, there were few missteps. Lemons is superb. Her clear soprano, though it lacks the power the role ideally calls for, carries beautifully.

The other supporting singers are equally talented. Tabitha Barrus as Liesel has some difficulty with the higher register notes in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” but overall she and Robert Twaddell, who plays Rolf, give high-caliber and heart-warming performances. When JaceSon P. Barrus as Georg Von Trapp sings, his resonant baritone carries a haunting type of authority that goes perfectly with the role. His rendition of “Edelweiss” won’t soon be forgotten.

Meredith Browning is a great casting choice for Maria. Though she has some difficulty in that awkward place between chest and head voice in some numbers, namely the title song “The Sound of Music,” her talent is undeniable. Her voice plays over the notes of “Do Re Mi” with abandon and yet softens with husky undertones during the love ballad “Something Good” with Captain Von Trapp. Yet nowhere does she shine more than when performing with the seven Von Trapp children. I cannot say enough about this troop of youngsters, whose harmony never falters and energy never wavers.

Over and over again in my notes I used the word “charming”, yet they go beyond charming. They are enchanting, especially Miranda Barrus as young Gretel. The role is designed to warm the hearts of the audience, but it isn’t without its demands. She has a good amount of lines, numerous group numbers, and several important solo bits that have to be dead on, and Miranda pulls them all off. Kudos to her, and I look forward to seeing her in many area shows in the future.

The musical talents and charm of Maria and the children carry the first act. In the second act, with the pressure from the Germans affecting the business and love lives of Captain Von Trapp and his companions, the adults are finally called upon to act. Unfortunately, they are not half as successful as their younger counterparts. Without the music to hide behind, they are awkward and stilting.

Even the production elements, to this point impeccable, seems to suffer along with them as sound problems suddenly emerge – characters are left to speak their lines without working microphones – and bulky set pieces inexplicably block the view of entire segments of the audience; an inexcusable design problem for theater-in-the-round. The chemistry between JaceSon P. Barrus as Georg and Browning as Maria is so non-existent as to border on uncomfortable during their love scenes, and the awkwardness during the closing scene when the family escapes into the mountains is almost oppressive. It’s too bad that the show ends on a low note because I was thoroughly impressed through the majority of it.

Maybe Plaza overreached a little, staging such a huge show in such a small space; the curtain call alone took up nearly their entire stage, without exaggeration. But I can’t imagine any small theater-in-the-round staging The Sound of Music more successfully, and as always, their production elements are exceptional and their dedication to rehearsing until achieving perfection is evident. Overall, this is another success for Plaza Theatre, and I can’t wait to see their next production.