Listen up, Austin Muggles: We’re about to get the biggest musical treat thanks to the Austin Symphony Orchestra, which is performing the score from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” this fall at Bass Concert Hall.
The symphony plans to perform every note from the score of “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first film based off J.K. Rowling’s magical series about a boy wizard, while the movie plays in high definition on a 40-foot screen. Composer John Williams created the score for the first three films, and his “Hedwig’s Theme” is the song perhaps most associated with the overall series, even after other composers took over writing the score for the remaining movies.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the “Harry Potter” books. “The Sorcerer’s Stone” was first published in June 1997.
“The Phantom of the Opera,” composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Charles Hart’s “rock opera” adaptation of Gaston Leroux’ classic French novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” is officially in the third decade of its original run. Premiering in London in 1986 before transferring to Broadway in 1988, the musical has become an international sensation, and is the longest-running show in the history of Broadway.
Now, it once again comes to Austin, courtesy of Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts and playing through April 30th at Bass Concert Hall. This is a relatively new staging of the show, directed by Laurence Connor and produced by Cameron Mackintosh. It started touring in 2012, while the original Broadway and London runs (directed by Harold Prince) continue unabated.
Though Connor has reimagined the look and design of “Phantom,” adding a few new technical tricks to the show’s repertoire, the music and lyrics, as well as the book by Webber and Richard Stigler, have remained the same. What Connor has achieved most successfully is to reinvigorate the sense of large-scale grandiosity and spectacle in “Phantom.”
“Phantom” is decidedly melodramatic, with one-dimensional characters and a decided lack of subtlety, but that is, after all, part of the charm that has allowed it to last for over thirty years. Connor’s production leans into this, focusing on an epic design scope. Paul Brown’s set is monolithic yet surprisingly mobile and mutable, dwarfing the actors in order to create an immense sense of scale. Maria Björnson’s costumes are sumptuous and plentiful, lending the show much of its sense of pageantry. Paule Constable’s lighting, unusually for such a large show, is largely done from the side, emphasizing the production’s fusion of opera and ballet with musical theater.
The touring cast of “Phantom” is also up to the challenge of reaching the melodramatic heights this kind of design scheme requires. Katie Travis, as tortured ingénue Christina Daaé, is a perfect counterpoint to the good-guy leading man bluster of Jordan Craig’s Raoul. Derrick Davis, as the titular Phantom, provides the strongest performance, thanks in no small part to a script that provides him with much deeper nuance than any of the other stock characters.
The true stars of “Phantom,” though, in both its original form and in this production, are the epic, operatic music and the large-scale spectacle that only money can buy. In this, the production does not disappoint, nor does it spare any expense.
“The Phantom of the Opera” is a bit like a blockbuster movie; it’s quite entertaining and enjoyable, the spectacle is often breathtaking, but ultimately it doesn’t have a larger point other than to provide an evening’s diversion, which it does with great gusto.
‘The Phantom of the Opera” When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday through April 30 Where: Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive Cost: $34-$154 Information: 512-471-9166, texasperformingarts.org.
The producer of musicals such as “Les Misérables,” “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” “Oliver” and “Mary Poppins,” feels the need to refresh some of his past successes about every 25 years as well as some classics. He’s recently redone “Miss Saigon” and “Les Misérables,” but also done classics “My Fair Lady” twice and “Oliver” three times.
“It’s something I love doing just as much” as creating original musicals, he says. “It’s a great challenge.”
One of his reimaginings is coming to Austin this week as part of the Broadway in Austin series. “The Phantom of the Opera,” which Mackintosh created with Andrew Lloyd Webber, first appeared on stage in 1986 in London and then as a fresh take in 2012. It comes to Bass Concert Hall April 19 through April 30.
Mackintosh says he doesn’t redo a musical just to redo it.
“Because I know it inside and out, I’m my own greatest critic,” he says. “Is something as good or just change for change’s sake, which I don’t agree with,” he asks himself.
If that’s the case, then he says he keeps at it until it is just as good, probably better.
While the script and music are essentially the same in this “Phantom,” the staging is vastly different in ways that will surprise audiences who saw the original.
“Anyone who has seen it, hasn’t seen it like this,” he says. “The material is exactly the same with a few little tweaks, but just the way the show works is very different.”
Audiences who saw the 1980s “Phantom,” won’t be disappointed by the change, Mackintosh says. “They are seeing something they may know, but as long as it’s good, they love the difference.”
For those who have never seen a “Phantom,” will feel like they are seeing something new, he says.
“The brilliant musicals can be re-examined by a different generation,” he says. “They will have a different viewpoint.”
For this reimagined “Phantom,” Mackintosh went back to the 1910 book by Gaston Leroux and thought about who this phantom was. He was an inventor.
This new version takes the hall of mirrors in the book and makes it an essential element. The whole stage opens and closes and becomes things. Mackintosh likens it to a giant Advent calendar. “We can go places that we could never go in the original,” Mackintosh says.
Doors open and the Phantom appears. We see a whole lot more of the backstage of the famous opera house the Phantom occupies. We watch the Phantom stalk Christine as parts of the stage move to show us the Phantom’s movement throughout the theater.
Mackintosh says he currently has 30 to 40 productions going on around the world at any given time. His newest work is a new version of “Half of Sixpence,” a little-known 1963 musical based on an H.G. Wells book “Kipps” that was turned into a 1968 movie. It’s now in London. He also is bringing “Hamilton” to London. This fall, he’s bringing a new “Les Misérables” to North American stages. His “Miss Saigon,” which is currently on Broadway, will be touring North America 18 months from now. Both, fingers crossed, will make their way to Austin.
The free Fusebox Festival — an eclectic celebration of art in its many forms — opens today and runs through Sunday at venues throughout Austin. As Michael Barnes explained in his preview, the festival isn’t just about artists showing off their creative endeavors; it also “urges them to engage with their audiences around the big ideas of the day,” such as the border and community health.
Here are three top picks from among the Fusebox events from our preview story:
“Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance,” April 14-15, Stateside at the Paramount Theatre
This is one we have been anticipating for a long time. A chamber opera composed by Graham Reynolds, it was conceived and executed in collaboration with Rude Mechs director Shawn Sides and the Mexican theater collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, which contributed the libretto. Using the biography of Pancho Villa, it plays with the culture and politics of West Texas through the eyes of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
Bonus: Additional lyrics by poet and novelist Carrie Fountain.
“The score is part chamber suite, part rock opera and part cinematic soundscape,” Fusebox founder Ron Berry says. “The influences run from Chavela Vargas and Los Tigres del Norte to Shostakovich and Bartok to the Los Lobos offshoot the Latin Playboys.”
“Meeting,” April 12-16, Scottish Rite Theater
In this piece from Australians Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, two performers interact with 64 robotic percussion instruments. Hamilton provides the irresistible movement, Macindoe the machine sounds.
Bonus: You have five chances to catch this 50-minute marvel.
“Technically, the dancers are ridiculously talented and rigorous,” Berry says. “The influences range from ballet to hip-hop and breakdancing, particularly popping. Conceptually, the piece is super tight. They take a particular idea and go very deep with it, which I really appreciate and enjoy.”
Al Volta’s Midnight Bar, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. April 12-16, Saengerrunde Halle
“Al Volta’s is especially exciting because it’s a super fun pop-up bar,” Berry says. “The food will be changing every night. It’s also an opportunity to meet other audience members, artists and arts professionals from all over the world. The artistic programming is some of the most fun and diverse in the festival.”
Why sit or stand around with the artists in an old German bowling alley?
“Let’s dissolve that barrier between audience, artist and art!” Berry says. “Let’s all hang out together and talk about the world. And then we combine this with our own love of bars. I spend a lot of time in bars, turns out. Occupational hazard. But I do love a good bar.”
Deep explorations of family dynamics and personal tragedies are certainly no stranger to the stage, but what is more unusual is to find those classic tropes of the Anglo-American stage mixed with broad comedy and sitcom-esque set-ups.
Such is the case, though, with British playwright Rory Kinnear’s 2013 drama “The Herd,” which is now receiving its Texas premiere courtesy of Jarrott Productions at Trinity Street Theatre.
“The Herd” tells the story of a middle-class family living in the London suburbs as they await the arrival of Andy, a young man with severe mental and physical disabilities, for his 21st birthday party. While they wait, Claire, Andy’s sister, surprises her mother and grandparents with the arrival of her boyfriend, Mark. Meanwhile, Andy’s father —long estranged from the rest of the family — also shows up. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.
Kinnear does a spectacular job balancing the masks of comedy and tragedy throughout the play, infusing the characters with both familial warmth and deep-seated, simmering resentments. The entire story is told in one act, with no intermission, unfolding in real time, a dramaturgical challenge that Kinnear deftly tackles by skillfully maneuvering characters on- and off-stage to create a series of confrontations both comedic and, sometimes, cruel.
As one might expect, the success of a play like this relies largely on the cast. Director Robert Tolaro and the design team support the story mostly by staying unobtrusive and allowing the cast to play within the immaculately realistic set crafted by designer Desiderio Roybal. Tolaro’s faith in his cast pays off, as all the performances are strong, and some are quite staggering.
Amber Quick imbues Claire with a deep inner life that comes out through both vivaciousness and despair, leaving her ultimate motivations something of a mystery to the audience, to her family and, perhaps, even to herself. Janelle Buchanan, as Andy’s grandmother Patricia, presents a much more externalized character, who vacillates between an icy sense of superiority and a fierce maternal instinct to protect her loved ones. Caught betwixt the two is Jan Phillips’ Carol, Andy’s mother, whose love for her son is visibly breaking her down even as she presents a surface veneer of holding everything together.
“The Herd” is far from the flashiest of productions, which is fitting for what is a somewhat subdued text, where the drama and laughs all arise from realistic characters in relatable situations. It is a quiet, stoic presentation of a family pushed to the brink by the tragedies of fate and the choices that its members have made in reaction to circumstance. Jarrott Productions’ presentation of that story is very direct and simple, in a thoroughly intimate and moving way.
‘The Herd’ When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through April 30 (2 p.m. matinee and no evening performance April 29) Where: Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St. Cost: $18-$30 Information:jarrottproductions.com
When the national tour of the famous Sam Mendes-directed revival of “Cabaret” came through Austin last year, its message about the dangers of remaining blind to fascism resonated during the presidential primaries. Although the St. Edward’s University Department of Performing Arts’ new production of “Cabaret” at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre is, of course, less polished than a big-budget Broadway tour, it is perhaps all the more powerful for it, and certainly more disturbing given the current political climate.
“Cabaret,” with a book by Joe Masterhoff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, tells the story of a group of friends, neighbors and lovers in 1931 Berlin, just as the Nazi Party is rising to power. Its main storyline — the dual love stories of naïve American novelist Clifford Bradshaw with scandalous British cabaret singer Sally Bowles and German landlady Fraulein Schneider with Jewish-German shopkeeper Herr Schultz — is contrasted against wildly entertaining burlesque performances at the Kit Kat Club, helmed by an ambiguous and flamboyant Master of Ceremonies (known only as the Emcee).
“Cabaret” is starkly divided between a flirtatious first act, oozing with sex, and a second act that sees its characters coming to grips with the political reality that, though an important undercurrent, they had largely ignored throughout the first half. In this production, though, director/choreographer Danny Herman has toned down the first act’s over-the-top sexuality a bit, keeping it in the realm of the burlesque without engaging with the pornographic.
This proves to be a wise choice for two reasons. First, of course, is the young age of many of the performers. Second, and perhaps more importantly, by toning down the shock value of the sex in the first act, the first revelation of the full force of fascism at the end of Act One becomes even more shocking, and extremely disturbing.
The act division is so affecting here because the lead characters are so well drawn. Meredith McCall and Steve Ochoa, two of the professional actors working with the students, play Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz with such tenderness, humor and depth that watching them deal with the play’s political circumstances becomes a truly wrenching experience. The younger couple, Clifford (Owen Ziegler) and Sally (Emily Ott), face a more intimate sort of dilemma, though still driven by fine performances from the two student actors.
Ott is particularly at home during Bowles’ cabaret performances, where her charisma and showmanship truly shine. The Emcee, played by professional actor Jerreme Rodriguez, similarly steals the show whenever he is on stage, creating a version of the character that is slightly more clownish and less leering than traditional depictions, which makes for a delightful new way to view him.
There is powerful resonance between “Cabaret” and today’s politics, and this production takes full advantage of that fact. The impact of “Cabaret” has not lessened with age, and it serves as a potent and urgent reminder of the power of theater to arouse and disturb us with the dangers in our own world.
“Cabaret” When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, with matinee performance 2 p.m. April 15, through April 15 Where: Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward’s University, 3001 S. Congress Ave. Cost: $23-$28 Information: 512-448-8484, stedwards.edu/mary-moody-northen-theatre
In 1959, near the end of her life after decades of drug abuse, Billie Holiday still found the strength to perform at a variety of clubs, cabarets and other venues. Lanie Robertson’s musical play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” tells the story of one such imagined late-night performance at a club in South Philadelphia.
“Lady Day” is essentially a one-woman show revolving around its lead actress performing a series of Holiday’s songs connected by monologues about the highs and lows of her life. The successful Broadway run of the show was built around Audra McDonald, who won a record-breaking sixth Tony Award for her work, and all subsequent mountings need to have a startlingly powerful lead in order to be successful.
Zach Theatre’s new production of “Lady Day” has just such a lead in actress and recording artist Chanel. Joined on stage solely by members of a three-piece band, only one of whom ever speaks, and surrounded by small tables of audience members, Chanel takes Holiday on a transformative journey from bubbly jazz chanteuse to early civil rights activist to heartbroken heroin addict.
Holiday’s life was not one that solely consisted of sorrow, of course, and “Lady Day” emphasizes her strength just as much as it does her weaknesses. Early in the evening, she says, “Singing has always been the best part of living for me,” and we see that play out throughout the rest of the show. When she becomes lost in song, Chanel’s Holiday comes alive, revived from the various and numerous breakdowns she suffers during her monologues.
Chanel is a dynamic performer, both as an impressionist channeling Holiday’s voice and as a spectacular vocalist in her own right, but she gives “Lady Day” its power most forcefully in the deft way she displays Holiday’s struggle to shine through the adversity she had faced all her life. There is a simplicity to her performance that allows the depth of Holiday’s pain to shine through in moving and powerful ways.
Director Michael Rader emphasizes this simplicity through a staging dynamic that represents the performance venue, allowing Chanel to roam around the stage, interacting with both her piano player/band leader Jimmy Powers (played by Kris KeyZ) and the audience members seated at the on-stage tables. As a result, however, sometimes (especially during the musical numbers) her back is turned to the bulk of the audience. Designer Michelle Ney’s set and costumes, though gorgeous, also feel a bit too beautiful for a story focusing on Holiday at the end of her life.
Ultimately, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is the story of a complex, complicated, legendary lady of song and stage, and Zach Theatre’s production has found the perfect leading lady to portray her.
‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’ When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through April 30 Where: Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd Cost: $29-$140 Information: 512-476-0541, zachtheatre.org.
I have a confession to make: I don’t like Jane Austen.
Her comedies of manners and tales of the British upper class worrying they might become slightly less “upper” have never spoken to me. I was only ever able to complete “Pride and Prejudice” through the addition of zombies. My favorite adaptation of one of her novels is “Clueless.” I am, to be sure, not a fan.
Yet I highly enjoyed Austin Playhouse’s new production of “Sense and Sensibility,” adapted from Austen’s novel by Kate Hamill and directed by the theater company’s artistic director, Lara Toner Haddock. Hamill takes Austen’s plot and language but infuses them with a modern flair that focuses on the text’s proto-feminist elements and brings in a massive heaping of good-natured goofiness.
This version of “Sense and Sensibility” is silly, no doubt, and filled with bouncy energy. Designer Mike Toner’s set consists of a few simple pieces on wheels (chairs, tables, doorways and windows) that move about and reconfigure to set each scene. Complemented by the vibrant slashes of bold colors in designer Buffy Manners’ costumes and the classical covers of female-driven pop music that dominate Joel Mercado-See’s sound design, this constant metamorphosis of the stage moves the story along even during the stuffiest of scenes.
Fortunately, that stuffiness does not dominate the production in the least. Haddock accentuates the goofiness of Hamill’s text with broad, occasionally slapstick performances that wink to the audience in recognition of some of Austen’s more outdated conventions. “Sense and Sensibility” thus becomes a thoroughly modern Austen, with comedic appeal even to those who don’t care for the novelist’s creations.
Wisely, the production doesn’t rely completely on humor and instead finds important moments of pathos, particularly in the second act. This mostly comes out of the text’s most important relationship — the bonds of sisterhood and friendship between Elinor and Marianne. Their affection for one another, and unwavering support, is the true love story at the heart of this version of “Sense and Sensibility,” thanks in no small part to the prodigious talents, both comedic and sentimental, of the show’s lead actresses, Jess Hughes (as Elinor) and Marie Fahlgren (as Marianne).
The momentum of “Sense and Sensibility,” though, relies on a wide-ranging supporting cast of Austin Playhouse all-stars, all of whom take on multiple roles from scene to scene. Standouts include the impeccable comedic timing of Joey Banks, the boundless energy of Katie Kohler and the transformative physicality of Lara Wright (who is called upon to portray multiple characters within the same scene).
Austin Playhouse’s “Sense and Sensibility” may not be the most traditional of adaptations, but it is quite fun, even if you’re not an ardent Janeite.
“Sense and Sensibility” When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through April 30 Where: Austin Playhouse, 6001 Airport Blvd. Cost: $16-$36 Information:austinplayhouse.com