Broadway in Austin has paused its acceptance of new subscribers for the 2018-2019 season that includes the smash musical “Hamilton.” Current subscribers to the 2017-2018 season can still renew their seats through March 27.
New subscribers to the Texas Performing Arts series can sign up for the waiting list to be notified if additional season tickets become available.
This pause is quite unusual, perhaps unprecedented in the history of touring shows at the University of Texas’ Bass Concert Hall. Demand must be incredibly high.
Michael Frayn’s 1982 play “Noises Off” is perhaps the most-produced English-language farce, popular with professional and community theaters across the United States and the United Kingdom. It is, in some ways, the theatrical version of “How did the chicken cross the road?”; its humor relies on the way it twists and turns traditional farce by distorting expectations.
“Noises Off” begins as a traditional sex farce, embodied by the play-within-a-play “Nothing On,” which features several amorous characters running around a country house bringing plates of sardines on and off stage while banging doors open and closed with perfect comedic timing. It’s a play that’s all about, as the characters of “Noises Off” frequently remind us, “Doors and sardines.”
“Noises Off,” itself, takes us behind those doors, and shows us what happens to the sardines when offstage and in the hands of a group of actors and stage managers with a variety of conflicts among themselves. Each act of the play features either a rehearsal or a performance of the first act of “Nothing On.” Act One shows us the final rehearsal; Act Two a performance from back-stage; and Act Three one of the final, disastrous performances from the audience’s perspective.
The City Theatre’s new production of “Noises Off,” running through March 11, reminds us why it is such a popular play. The fast-paced antics of the actors, in both their onstage and offstage personas, create a delightful ensemble piece that works hard to milk every last laugh.
“Noises Off” is something of a passion project for director J. Kevin Smith, who has served both backstage and as an actor in two previous productions. His love for the play shines through in the attention to detail in the enthusiastic staging, aided and abetted by properties master Emily Durden and costume designer Scout Gutzmerson. The production’s set is something to behold in and of itself; designer Kakii Keenan, along with assistant designer Blossom Bennett, have created a mobile set of doors and stairs that the stage crew rotates during the play’s two intermissions, turning the show both literally and figuratively inside out.
The cast of “Noises Off” is nothing if not energetic, with a range of comedy styles appealing to many different tastes. Brent Rose, as Gary, is all manic excitement, his lanky frame the perfect canvas for a highly physical performance, while Sean Hannigan’s Selsdon is far more subtle and wry, and Stacy Trammell’s approach to the young ingénue Brooke imbues the character’s dim-wittedness with an almost surrealist aura. The entire cast particularly shines in the largely pantomimed second act, where they excel at the broad physical humor demanded by the scene.
“Noises Off” is ultimately meant to be nothing more than a bit of fun, and in this regard City Theatre’s new production wildly succeeds, creating an evening of wackiness, hijinks and, of course, doors and sardines.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through March 11
Where: 3823 Airport Blvd.
At last you have permission to order those “Hamilton” tickets for the once-in-a-generation musical that will stop in Austin at Bass Concert Hall for three weeks in 2019.
The happy catch? To secure those tickets beginning at 11 a.m. Feb. 20 when the Broadway in Austin call center opens, you must subscribe to the whole 2018-2019 season, presented by Texas Performing Arts at Bass Concert Hall. That means six other shows, including one comedy, three relatively new musicals and two long-running Broadway standards. Single tickets to “Hamilton” and the other shows will go on sale at a later date.
Yet let’s start with “Hamilton,” which plays May 28-June 16, 2019, at the very end of the coming season.
“We have been building up to this season since ‘Hamilton’ opened on Broadway,” says Kathy Panoff, Texas Performing Arts director and associate dean of the University of Texas School of Fine Arts. “We’re thrilled it’s finally coming to Austin.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda reinvented the musical theater form with this ferociously smart show about Alexander Hamilton, inspired by Ron Chernow’s best-selling biography. Using a range of musical styles in a sung- and rapped-through score — as well as mostly nonwhite actors, who give every old idea new meaning — the show opened on Broadway in 2015. It has been sold out ever since, and individual tickets can go for hundreds of dollars.
Yet season ticket prices for all seven Broadway in Austin selections, including “Hamilton,” start as low as $224.
While you are holding your breath for the Great Arrival, six other shows wait in the Bass Concert Hall queue.
The one comedy — a rare nonmusical for Broadway in Austin — is “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a British product that has been compared to the backstage farce “Noises Off.” In this show, things go disastrously wrong during the opening night of a play called “The Murder at Havensham Manor,” proving that theatrical life is often the theater’s most effective subject. It lands Oct. 23-28, 2018.
Among the new musicals, “Love Never Dies” is an Andrew Lloyd Webber tuner billed as a sequel to his mega-hit, “The Phantom of the Opera.” Lloyd Webber, however, once said: “I don’t regard this as a sequel — it’s a stand-alone piece.” He later clarified his remarks, saying that of course it is a sequel, but you need not have seen “Phantom” to understand it. Fair enough. It stumbled during its original London run but was embraced in Australia. “Love” tarries Nov. 27-Dec. 2, 2018.
Another new musical, “Waitress,” was inspired by the charming 2007 independent movie by the same name and features an admired score by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who currently stars in the New York cast. The musical version of “Waitress” opened on Broadway in 2016 and is still running, which is a feat for a relatively quiet, personal show. It tells of a cafe server stuck in an unhappy marriage who is pregnant and having an affair and who seeks redemption through a pie contest. It takes your orders Jan. 22-27, 2019.
“Anastasia,” the third new musical, shares an Austin connection. Local arts backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff are among the credited producers. The 2017 musical is based on the 1997 animated film — itself inspired by plays and novels about the recovery of a possibly lost Russian princess — and many of its fans remain loyal from that experience. It received lukewarm notices in New York, but, based on its built-in appeal, the producers immediately announced a worldwide tour. It appears Feb. 12-17, 2019.
The older musicals need no introductions. “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 1964 Bock and Harnick classic based on shtetl life, brings back Jewish traditions and indelible songs April 2-7, 2019. The musical focuses on Tevye, a dairyman with five daughters who must deal with changing cultural norms as well as the expulsion of the Jews by the Czar’s forces.
The record-breaking show comes to Austin by way of a fresh production from director Bartlett Sher.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s indestructible “Cats,” which debuted on Broadway in 1982 and then ran 18 years, shows up on our collective doorsteps again May 7-12, 2019. You either hate or love this show based on T.S. Eliot poems about feline life and afterlife. There’s no denying that tunes such as “Memory” are hard to pry from your mind. Whether you cotton to the furry costumes, circus makeup and undulating choreography is a matter of personal preference.
How to land tickets to ‘Hamilton’ and more
The seven-show Lexus Broadway in Austin 2018-19 season subscriptions go on sale starting at 11 a.m. Feb. 20. Prices start as low as $224. Visit broadwayinaustin.com or call Broadway in Austin at 800-731-7469 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The deadline for current season subscribers to renew their seats is March 27. Groups of 10 or more may request reservations by calling 877-275-3804 or via email at Austin.Groups@BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com. Individual show ticket sales will be announced at a later date.
When it opened on Broadway in 1995, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” was a minor hit, running for more than 2,000 performances — the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. Based on the music and lyrics of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the show is a true revue, with no unifying plot or theme and only the smallest hint of recurring characters. However, the secret to its success was the music itself, drawing from the wellspring of songs created by Leiber and Stoller as they helped to invent rock ‘n’ roll along with performing artists such as the Coasters and Elvis Presley.
TexArts’ production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” embraces the disconnected nature of its source material, focusing on a great sound rather than a great story. Director/choreographer Kimberly Schafer certainly works hard to create a unity of characterization for each of the performers, but in the end the structure of the show — which features one song after the other, mostly without a thematic connection, and no dialogue — doesn’t allow for anything much beyond short skits for each individual song.
Fortunately, those skits are great fun, and Schafer’s diverse cast of potent vocalists create a rollicking good time. To be sure, the show will definitely resonate most strongly with those already familiar with many of the songs, thus skewing towards an older crowd, but the cast’s infectious energy and rich vocal talent imbue those songs with a modern vitality that can appeal to audiences of any age.
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is, in a word, fun. Schafer knows this, and she lets her cast go wild with each song, emphasizing the goofiness of some (“Charlie Brown,” “Little Egypt”) and the emotive plaintiveness of others (“There Goes My Baby,” “I (Who Have Nothing)”), while creating an overall package that lets the songs speak for themselves without the contextualization of plot or character.
This is not a soul-searching story or intensive character study, by any stretch. Rather, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is ecstatically content with being precisely what it is — a good time.
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through March 4
Where: Kam and James Morris Theatre, 2300 Lohman’s Spur
The beloved 14-acre site, home to b’s 1916 villa and, now, the sprawling b, is set to undergo a multiphase face-lift. The first step is to break ground March 21 on a new $6 million guest-friendly entrance complex and improvements to the verges of West 35th Street.
On the surface, Anna Ziegler’s “A Delicate Ship” has more than a passing resemblance to a soap opera scenario. Thirty-something couple Sam and Sarah are interrupted on Christmas Eve by Sarah’s childhood friend, Nate, who clearly harbors feelings for Sarah beyond simple friendship. Drama and angst ensue.
However, Ziegler’s deft writing explores this scenario in a much deeper and darker way than any soap opera ever would. With its disturbing games and shifting alliances of two-against-one, “A Delicate Ship” comes to bear more in common with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” than “The Young and the Restless.”
In the second production of the company’s premiere season, Filigree Theatre’s Austin premiere of “A Delicate Ship” takes this nuanced script and gives it a thoughtful, heartbreaking production. Director Elizabeth V. Newman keeps the production relatively free of bells and whistles,and instead (along with lighting/set designer Chris Conard) simply follows the text’s ebbs and flows. Narrative asides and monologues directly to the audience, cast in shadows and spotlights, reveal secrets of the characters’ past, present and future.
The three performers at the heart of “A Delicate Ship” each take different approaches to their characters, which makes for a complex love triangle that is dynamically engaging. Nicholas Weindel, as Nate, is on edge and high-strung from the very start of the play, providing an air of both menace and self-pity that permeates the entire story. David Moxham’s Sam, on the other hand, takes awhile to reveal his true nature, moving from cool and collected — if a bit jealous — to more openly disturbed and off-kilter as the bizarre evening continues.
Of special note is Laura Ray as Sarah. In many ways, “A Delicate Ship” is Sarah’s story, and Ray’s performance anchors the production with a thoroughly believable, likable female lead. Even as we question some of Sarah’s decisions (or lack thereof), her motivation is always crystal clear, to a heartbreaking degree.
“A Delicate Ship” is a darkly funny tragedy about contemporary relationships, and about how we are all the culmination of our own parents’ love stories. The Filigree Theatre’s production of this moody, moving work is a subtle, emotional exploration of the complicated nature of modern love and adulthood, and it’s well worth seeing.
“A Delicate Ship” When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25 Where: Santa Cruz Theater, 1807 E. Seventh St. Cost: $25-$30 Information:filigreetheatre.com
Top arts news of the week: UT opens Ellsworth Kelly masterpiece at the Blanton Museum of Art. Although museum members, directors and backers have peeked inside the chapel-like building on campus, everyone can see it during regular museum hours beginning Feb. 18. Check into the Visitors Services desk in the east wing of the museum first. And go on a sunny morning for the best light show.
“Patches of color drip ever so slowly down the walls, then pool onto the smooth black granite floor. On sunny days, the tall white barrel vaults swim with jewel-toned iridescence.
“Not only do the intense hues migrate minute by minute, they alter from day to day according to the position of the sun above “Austin,” a phenomenal new building that doubles as a monumental work of art on the University of Texas campus.”
Kenneth “Ken” Caswell, who managed the Austin Symphony from 1980 to 1998, has died.
“The entire Austin Symphony family is saddened by the passing of former executive director, Ken Caswell,” said Anthony Corroa. “Ken was a kind and gentle man. He led the administration of the orchestra with passion. His great love for symphonic music will live in the hearts of all those who knew him.”
Caswell retired during a major shift in symphony culture that preceded the hiring of current conductor and music director Peter Bay.
Caswell was descended from an old Austin family whose name pops on landmarks all over the city. He spent his later years in the family modest house on a big piece of land in between Laguna Gloria and Mount Bonnell.
He was a collector of vintage piano rolls, which preserved performance of greats such as composer Claude Debussy, and he transferred them to modern recordings.
NOTE: This is a breaking news story and there will be updates to this post.
Florian Zeller’s drama “The Father” has been an international sensation in recent years, first winning the French playwright a Molière Award (the national theater award of France) for best play in 2014 and then coming to both the West End and Broadway in an English translation by Christopher Hampton.
The play tells the story of Andrè, a senior citizen suffering from increasing dementia, but it relates the events to the audience from Andrè’s point of view. Scenery moves and disappears from scene to scene, doorways shift location in blackouts, narrative moments appear out of order, and unfamiliar actors appear claiming to be characters we’ve already met. The text demands two key things of any production — a tour-de-force performance from its lead (Frank Langella won a Tony Award for the role on Broadway), and a deliberately confusing and off-putting presentation that helps to place the audience inside Andrè’s head.
Jarrott Productions’ Austin premier of “The Father,” playing through March 4 at Trinity Street Theatre, meets both these high marks. Austin theater mainstay David Jarrott’s portrayal of Andrè is fierce, frightening and ultimately all-too-sympathetic, which enables director Rick Roemer to develop staging conventions that help us understand Andrè’s pain while at the same time glimpsing the ways in which he passes that pain off to his own daughter, Anne.
Amber Quick, as Anne, is able to match Jarrott’s strength, creating a bristling family dynamic. The relationship between the pair is at the heart of the show, as it reveals the suffering that dementia brings not only to the afflicted but also to their concerned family members. Just as we are led to understand Andrè’s outbursts and anger, which result from his confusion, we can sympathize with some of the more desperate decisions that Anne makes because we see the heartache etched across Quick’s face.
Though Jarrott and Quick steal the show, “The Father” is truly a collaboration, with the rest of the cast and the entire design team contributing to an overall aesthetic that deliberately obscures narrative truth in order to get at deeper emotional issues of family obligation, elder abuse and the ways in which memory can bring us both comfort and pain.
‘THE FATHER’ When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through March 4 Where: Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St. Cost: $23-$25 Information:jarrottproductions.com
The 2003 film “School of Rock” — written by Mike White, directed by Austin’s own Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black — was a funny, heartfelt movie that cleverly deconstructed the Hollywood cliché of the “inspiring teacher,” as seen in films like “Dead Poets Society” and “To Sir, with Love.” Unexpectedly, in 2015 composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyricist Glenn Slater and writer Julian Fellowes turned the film into a Broadway musical. Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts have now brought that musical to Austin, playing through Feb. 18 at Bass Concert Hall.
The story of “School of Rock” follows that of the film. Out-of-work moocher Dewey Finn pretends to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school, only to quickly find himself in over his head. Instead of inspiring the kids in his class through reading, writing and arithmetic, he reaches out to them through music and forms them into a rock band so that they can compete in an impending Battle of the Bands competition.
Both the film and the musical reach some pretty sentimental places with this plot, but it works much better on the screen than on the stage. Whereas the film plays around with its borderline-intolerable protagonist in order to make a counterpoint to the inspiring teacher we’ve all seen in a hundred previous films, the musical doesn’t have the same well to pull from; previous Broadway shows on the subject basically begin and end with “The Sound of Music.”
As a result, much of what makes the film funny, charming and insightful feels goofy, cynical, or even downright offensive on the stage. For example, the panoply of shrewish, killjoy females, of all ages, played against the fun-loving men gets old quickly (though it should be noted that some of these characterizations are upended as the play goes on).
Where this production of “School of Rock” absolutely excels, though, is in any moment that features Dewey’s class of fiercely talented students. Rob Colletti, as Dewey, is at his strongest when interacting with these kids, whom director Laurence Connor wisely lets act like actual kids, goofing off in the background and shifting from sullen to over-excited on a dime. JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography is positively brilliant, adapting the carefree dancing style of actual children to the Broadway stage; picture the dancing kids from the “Peanuts” cartoons, but with a bit more panache.
The most impressive aspect of “School of Rock” — indeed, a prerecorded message from Andrew Lloyd Webber himself reminds of this at the start of the show — is that the children actually play their own rock instruments. Their performances bristle with electricity and manic, youthful energy; it’s no surprise that the Battle of the Bands at the end of the play is the show’s highlight.
As a play, “School of Rock” is a bit of a mess. With a script that doesn’t translate well from film to stage, mostly unforgettable musical numbers and an over-reliance on broad caricatures, it’s fun to watch but ultimately rather uninspired.
As a showcase for these amazing young performers, though, it is delight to watch, as well as a great way to introduce children to Broadway through familiar-sounding music and a group of precocious protagonists who are dealing with what will be, for them, familiar issues. “School of Rock” may not be Broadway gold, but it is something that’s fun for the kids both on the stage and in the audience.
‘SCHOOL OF ROCK’ When: 8 p.m. Feb. 14-17, 2 p.m. Feb. 17, 1 and 7 p.m. Feb. 18 Where: Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive Cost: $30-$135 Information:texasperformingarts.org