Here’s how you can get a great deal to see ‘Rent’ in Austin

Broadway hit “Rent” is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a short run Oct. 13-15, and you can score a great ticket for not a lot of dough. Seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section of every performance will be available for $25.

Contributed by Carol Rosegg, 2016

Now, you do have to work a bit to get that deal: Tickets can only be purchased in-person on the day of performance, two hours before each show, at the Bass  ticket office, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive. These sales are cash only, and there’s a limit of two tickets per person. Performances are 8 p.m. Oct. 13-14, 2 p.m. Oct. 14 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 15.

According to Broadway in Austin: “The tradition of $25 tickets began in 1996 in New York when the show moved to Broadway after a sold-out run in a small downtown theater. The producers of the show are committed to continuing the tradition of offering orchestra seats for $25 in each city the show will play.”

Freelance arts critic Andrew Friedenthal talked with national tour director Evan Ensign about the show for Austin360; here’s a little peek:

Long before people were lining up around the block in hopes of getting a ticket to “Hamilton,” a very different kind of show was praised for reinvigorating Broadway with its appeal to younger, more diverse audiences — Jonathan Larson’s “Rent.”

Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” “Rent” tells the story of a group of 20-something New Yorkers living in Manhattan’s Alphabet City neighborhood while dealing with the hassles of adult responsibilities and the deadly specter of the then-rampant AIDS disease. The show was a massive critical and commercial success in its original run, winning multiple Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize (issued posthumously to writer and composer Larson, who died the night before the show’s off-Broadway premiere), and it became one of the first Broadway shows to feature an affordable lottery system for sold-out performances.

With such a distinguished pedigree, you would think that Evan Ensign, the director of the show’s new national tour, might feel some pressure to live up to audience expectations. Ensign, though, is confident in the strength of the material. “I don’t feel that much pressure because I think the show stands up for itself,” he says.

You can read the full interview at mystatesman.com.

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The Vortex’s bloody ‘Vampyress’ is an adults-only Halloween treat

According to Guinness World Records, the most prodigious female serial killer of all time was Countess Erzsebet Bathori, who lived in Hungary in the 15th and 16th centuries, where she is said to have tortured and murdered hundreds of young women. The dark, bloody story of Bathori is hardly fodder for light musical comedy, but it is the inspiration for a different kind of stage musical — writer and composer Chad Salvata’s “Vampyress.”

Melissa Vogt and Hayley Armstrong star in “Vampyress” at the Vortex Theatre. Contributed by Kimberley Mead

Co-produced by Ethos and the Vortex Theater, “Vampyress” is a gothic opera tinged with chords of modern and electronic music that brings an element of dark magic to Bathori’s violent story. The Vortex has mounted the show several times before, to much audience acclaim, and they bring it back now as a dark treat for the Halloween season.

In some ways, “Vampyress” is a departure from the Vortex’s typical fair. The company has become known, and acclaimed, for timely, topical works that speak deeply and directly to contemporary issues of social justice, providing a sorely needed platform for minority voices amid the Austin theatrical scene. Some of that work tends to be relatively bare bones, focusing on actors and ideas over large-scale production values.

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“Vampyress,” on the other hand, is a much more timeless tale of sex, death and passion (in the sense of both passionate sensuality and passionate suffering) presented with extravagant music, lights, costuming, props and special effects. Ann Marie Gordon’s set combines with Jason Amato’s eerie, flickering lighting design and Salvata and Stephanie Dunbar’s ornate, intricate costuming (complimented by Amelia Turner’s makeup design), turning the small theater into an anteroom of hell and physicalizing Salvata’s gothic score.

Special note should be given to stage manager Tamara L. Farley, who keeps an entire show full of complicated lighting, sound and effects cues running smoothly, all to the extremely specific timing of an operatic score.

Directed by the Vortex’s artistic director Bonnie Cullum, “Vampyress” is something of an ode to female empowerment, even when taken to the extremes of brutality practiced by Bathori. As such, the entire cast is female, which surely made for an easier rehearsal process given the copious amounts of nudity present in the show. Though at times excessive, the nudity is never exploitative and in fact comes to have potent meaning in the show’s final moments.

Related: Scares on stage — five spooky performances to see before Halloween

Although the entire cast is highly talented (a necessity to simply pull off an opera filled with nudity, blood-letting and choreographed torture), Melissa Vogt’s star turn as Bathori is truly a standout, carrying the countess’ story from regal aloofness all the way through to crimson-stained feral breakdown. Hayley Armstrong, as the sorceress Davila, also provides a noteworthy performance, bringing an ethereal, otherworldly sense to the character that gives the opera some of its most frightening moments.

Full of nudity, violence and literally buckets of blood, “Vampyress” is a Halloween treat for adults only, a macabre evening of excess slightly in the vein of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Amid that cruelty, though, there is a seed of dark and violent beauty, and Salvata’s opera leaves its audience disturbed, aroused and more than a little afraid.

“VAMPYRESS”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 28
Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road
Cost: $15-$35
Information: 512-478-5282, vortexrep.org

Trouble Puppet Theater ties history to today’s politics

On May 4, 1886, a labor protest rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned deadly when somebody threw a bomb at the police officers assembled to disperse the crowd. The resulting Haymarket Square Riot led to the deaths of several people, as well as a railroading of justice that punished activists and speakers at the rally without any evidence directly connecting them to the outbreak of violence.

Trouble Puppet Theater is known for its intricate puppets. Contributed

Trouble Puppet Theater’s new production, “The Bomb in Haymarket Square” retells that story with a contemporary eye that relates it to current events and the present-day fight for social justice and equality. To do so, the company employs a variety of theatrical techniques, from direct address to projections, live music and, of course, puppetry.

“The Bomb in Haymarket Square” is the brainchild of Trouble Puppet founder Connor Hopkins, who also wrote, directed and stars in the show, alongside four other actors/puppeteers — Rob Jacques, Laura Ray, Gricelda Silva and Heath Thompson — and two musicians, Justin Sherburn (who also serves as a delightful musical warm-up act) and Bryan Crowell.

The show tells the story of several of the activists who were held responsible for the bombing, both in the time leading up to the riot and in the days of judicial injustice that followed. Represented by small, intricate yet wholly effective puppets, we get a brief glimpse into the personalities and philosophies of each man, grounded within a larger context of labor unrest and immigrant persecution.

As a piece of agitprop, “The Bomb in Haymarket Square” can be very effective at times. Ironically, it achieves its peak political impact when the text allows the story and the characters to take over in the second half. The first part of the show is dedicated more to revealing the philosophical underpinnings of each activists’ radical labor beliefs, featuring some of their most impassioned arguments. Though these speeches are clearly important to the political project of the show — tying in the history of radical labor in the U.S. with the fight against fascism, corporate overreach, police brutality and a biased justice system in the country today — they lack the dramatic force to be found in the more character-driven scenes of the show’s second half.

Unapologetically political, “The Bomb in Haymarket Square” features some solid performances, beautiful puppetry and a powerful message that speaks to our times through the voice of history.

“THE BOMB IN HAYMARKET SQUARE”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 15
Where: Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road
Cost: $15-$25
Information: troublepuppet.com

Secrets, lies and revelations in new theater company’s first production

Austin is home to many theater companies but a dwindling number of performance spaces. That’s why, though it’s always exciting to see a new group arise from the city’s artistic stew, one approaches them a bit cautiously. Many are the first productions of brand new companies; fewer are the second productions.

From left, Emily Rankin, David Moxham and J. Kevin Smith star in “Betrayal,” the first production from Filigree Theatre, Austin’s newest women-led theater company co-founded by Elizabeth V. Newman and Stephanie Moore. Contributed by Joshua Scott

With a solid production of a classic play, a clear mission statement and a fully planned out inaugural season, the Filigree Theatre looks to be a company that will buck that trend.

Headed by artistic director Elizabeth V. Newman and managing director Stephanie Moore, Filigree has as its inaugural production Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” playing through Oct. 8 at the Santa Cruz Theatre. The show, directed by Newman and produced by Moore, was written in 1978 and tells the story of an extramarital affair by jumping chronologically backwards in time, revealing layers of secrets and adding more layers of mystery as it goes. Filigree’s production, thanks to its talented cast, cuts to the heart of these secrets with an intriguing, close-vested, nuanced version of the play.

The secret to the success of this production of “Betrayal” is its three main cast members — David Moxham, Emily Rankin and J. Kevin Smith (Felix Alonzo rounds out the cast in a charmingly comedic bit part). In the first scene, we learn about the seven-year affair between Moxham’s Jerry and Rankin’s Emma, just after Emma’s marriage to her husband, Robert (played by Smith), has fallen apart. As the play progresses, it goes backwards toward the start of the affair, playing with the audience’s consciousness of the tale’s tragic (or, perhaps more accurately, pathetic) ending alongside the continued revelations of new facts and misremembered events.

RELATED: New Austin women-led theater company makes spirited debut

To play these deliciously layered levels of text and subtext requires extremely nuanced performances, and all three actors are more than up to the task. The subtle gestures, facial tics and posture changes of the characters speak volumes amid the famous “Pinter pauses” that litter the text, revealing as much through what remains unsaid as is told in the dialogue. Each character is constantly at odds, hiding secrets from the others as well as from themselves.

The simmering sexuality of the scenes between Jerry and Emma is matched by the quiet resentments of Emma’s relationship with Robert, and Robert’s dual jealousy and deep love of Jerry. Each relationship in this love triangle has its own tragic implications and secret possibilities.

Many of the play’s mysteries remain unresolved at the end, and it is quite possible that audience members — and the actors themselves — may come away with different beliefs about what they saw depending on the particular evening. For a set text to retain that level of spontaneity and individuality is quite a feat, but “Betrayal” pulls it off handily.

With such an accomplished first production under its belt, we can only hope to see continued work of such quality and excitement as Filigree Theatre continues to make itself known throughout Austin.

“BETRAYAL”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 8
Where: Santa Cruz Studio Theatre, 1805 E. Seventh St.
Cost: $30
Information: 512-496-5208, filigreetheatre.com

 

 

10 big Austin arts stories from the past 7 days

En route between two glorious musicals — “A Chorus Line” at Texas State University and “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre — on Saturday, my traveling companions paused to consider the American-Statesman arts coverage for just the past week. We were able to rattle off at least 10 significant stories by staff reporters and freelancers during the previous seven days, Sept. 22-28.

Later I thought, hey, 10 in seven ain’t bad. Why not share the bounty here? Dates are for original digital publication. This fat list doesn’t even include substantial descriptions of arts events that appeared on Page 2 of the Austin360 section, thanks to the extraordinary Ari Auber.

From left, Sydney Huddleston, Annika Lekven, Adrian Collins, Maria Latiolais, Kelsey Buckley, Estrella Saldaña, Kenzie Stewart, and Shonagh Smith in Hyde Park Theatre’s production of “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe. Contributed by Bret Brookshire

Sept. 22: Girl power puts ‘The Wolves’ ahead of the pack.

Sept. 24: Preview: Broadway classic ‘A Chorus Line’ connects with Texas State performers.

Sept. 25: Interview: Bring on the music, bring on the tap dancing for ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’

Sept. 25: Review: Young actor gives tar turn as troubled, tempestuous ‘Prodigal Son.

Sept. 25: Pairing the Ballet Austin Fête with the Thinkery’s Imaginarium.

Sept. 26: Review: Texas State’s ‘A Chorus Line’ is a singular sensation.

Sept. 27. Biennial art exhibit takes the long way to get back.

Sept. 28: A world of dance alights at the University of Texas.

Sept. 28: Austin to kick off citywide Day of the Dead celebrations.

Sept. 28: Scary laughs, Eddie Izzard, Kevin Nealon and plenty of sex.

 

 

All singin’, all dancin’ for Zach Theatre’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

For our money, there’s never too much singing and dancing in a stage musical. So we rejoiced at the chance to interview dance maker Dominique Kelley (“Sophisticated Ladies,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and Austin newcomer Luke Hawkins, who plays Don Lockwood in Zach Theatre’s staging of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

READ FULL STORY HERE

Sasha Hutchings and Luke Hawkins star in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre. Contributed by Kirk Tuck

Here’s some catnip:

“Tap dancing will always be with us. It’s a quintessential American dance form.

And Austin, with its nationally respected Tapestry Dance Company, is a tap hub of sorts.

Yet tap dancing doesn’t play a huge role in the contemporary Broadway theater. Especially given the numerous jukebox musicals derived from postwar pop or rock music, or equal number of hits based on animated movies, which might include a smattering of rhythm dancing, but nothing on the scale of, say, “Singin’ in the Rain,” which can be seen at Zach Theatre starting Sept. 27.

“There certainly are tap elements in current shows,” says Dominique Kelley, who made the dances for this “Singin’ in the Rain.” “A friend of mine always includes it. He doesn’t always use tap shoes, or it’s in the way back, but there’s always tap. Some say that tap is dying, but you can find people who can do it, like you can find krumping, flamenco or break dancing. I can find good people to do it, but do they fit the type? Can they actually sing and act, too? When you whittle it away, you don’t necessarily get the best tappers.”

Combing through Zach auditions held in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Kelley and director Abe Reybold came up blank for a leading man who could do all these things as Don Lockwood in this stage show based on the revered 1952 Gene Kelly movie.

“Then someone said: Do you know Luke Hawkins?” Kelley remembers. “Just hire him.”

Hawkins, who grew up in his mother’s dance studio outside Sacramento, Calif., has been a go-to guy for a type of tap dancing that requires more than mere rhythm.

“In my 20s, my agent sent me out for a lot of tap shows,” he says with a heart-melting smile. “But it was for the ensemble. I am a soloist tap dancer. Because I’ve devoted so much time and practice to falling in love with tapping, where it’s been and where it’s heading, being an ensemble member was too easy in shows I didn’t love. I didn’t feel challenged.”

Suffice it to day that “Singin’ in the Rain,” which costars Sasha Hutchings as Kathy Seldon, presents a challenge even for Hawkins.

“This pretty much utilizes everything,” he says. “Singing, acting, ballet-ish dance, tap dance. Because of Dom, I’m allowed to improvise, too, and that’s so rare. Most other choreographers don’t allow it.”

Making ‘A Chorus Line’ come alive at Texas State

The Broadway mega-hit “A Chorus Line” opens at the Texas State University Performing Arts Center in San Marcos on Sept. 26.

SEE FULL STORY HERE.

Liliana Rose, Jacob Burns, Emma Hearn and Ben Toomer play characters auditioning for a Broadway show in “A Chorus Line.” Contributed

We visited a run-through rehearsal and interview director/choreographer Cassie Abate to prep you for the show. Here’s a peek:

“What would you encounter if you dropped by a run-through rehearsal of “A Chorus Line” 2 1/2 weeks before it opened at Texas State University?

Actually, something very close to a fully consummated version of the hit 1975 show about performers auditioning to appear on a Broadway chorus line, meanwhile revealing their personal histories.

White light illuminates a few pieces of scenery. Young performers line up in studio togs. The late Marvin Hamlisch’s genius score, though rehearsed this night without orchestra or microphones, shines through.

Because these performers are part of the San Marcos school’s nationally ranked musical theater program, not only is the singing and dancing already top-notch, the original anecdotes that grew out of a singular play development process — it somewhat resembled group therapy for working chorus members — are deeply felt and communicated.”

Girl power puts ‘The Wolves’ ahead of the pack

In theater, as in film and television, we often find a significant lack of quality roles for female performers. Fortunately, most Austin theater companies are well aware of this imbalance in so many classic dramatic texts, and they work hard to choose works that showcase diversity.

From left, Sydney Huddleston, Annika Lekven, Adrian Collins, Maria Latiolais, Kelsey Buckley, Estrella Saldaña, Kenzie Stewart, and Shonagh Smith in Hyde Park Theatre’s production of “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe. Contributed by Bret Brookshire.

The venerable Hyde Park Theater, known for its presentation of darkly comedic contemporary dramas, has gone a step further this year, with three tersely-titled plays all written by women — Annie Baker’s “John,” Jen Silverman’s “The Moors,” and now Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves.”

Playing through Oct. 21, “The Wolves” is the perfect show with which to wrap up such a female-centric season. The short, tight, realistic play follows a girls indoor league soccer team (the titular Wolves) through one winter season as they face trials and tragedies both intimate and intense.

DeLappe does a superb job exploring the nine members of the team, who each have a unique personality, outlook and way of speaking. The show begins with a great deal of overlapping conversation, and even overlapping dialogue, as various members of the team simultaneously discuss tampons and the war crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Through many scenes like this one, which mix personal concerns with a wider awareness of the world, we slowly gain insight into the unique foibles and quiet strengths of each girl.

What is perhaps most impressive about “The Wolves” is the way in which it represents a realistic type of girl that we so rarely see on stage or on screen. The members of the soccer team are all high achievers who are legitimately concerned about both their own success and larger world issues. Their dialogue, in a naturalistic style reminiscent of David Mamet, is equally as goofy as it is cutting, ringing true to the way girls their age actually speak. Rather than falling into high school movie tropes, DeLappe shows us the charming, witty, sometimes obnoxious, highly driven girls that we all knew (or were) when we were young.

To that end, director Ken Webster has made two superb high-level choices with “The Wolves” — he has allowed the young cast to express all the messy awkwardness of youth and has taken on assistant director Rosalind Faires to help provide a female voice behind the scenes. With ultra-realistic set design by Mark Pickell, costumes by Cheryl Painter, lights by Don Day and sound by Robert S. Fisher, the audience is placed right on the field with these girls, let into both their tight camaraderie and their squabbling and infighting.

The nine girls who make up “The Wolves” are an acting ensemble in the truest sense of the world. Perhaps thanks to their relatively young age (most of them are recent or current college students), they guilelessly support one another as a full cast, with absolutely no upstaging or scenery chewing. The several scenes in which they flawlessly practice passing the soccer ball serve as a perfect metaphor for the amazing work they do together on stage, completely relying on and trusting one another. Each of them will be somebody to watch for on the Austin stage in the future.

With such a dynamite cast, directed pitch-perfectly in an excellent script, “The Wolves” truly leads the pack of current Austin productions.

‘THE WOLVES’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 21
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.
Cost: $22-$26
Information: 512-479-7529, hydeparktheatre.com

 

 

 

From nun to genocidal monster: Paper Chairs’ ‘Catalina de Erauso’ looks at history through different lens

We are told early on in Elizabeth Doss’ “Catalina de Erauso” that the titular Catalina and her staged autobiography are a work of historical fiction. As we observe Catalina’s sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing, increasingly outsized misadventures, the complexities and monstrosities of her life take on the shape and force of history, or, more accurately, historical interpretation.

Contributed by Erica Nix

“Catalina de Erauso” is the latest work by Doss, created with Austin’s Paper Chairs theater company, of which she is the co-artistic director and resident playwright. The production, directed by returning Paper Chairs co-founder Dustin Wills, launched the company’s 2017-2018 residency at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a nonprofit sustainable design and architecture firm in East Austin.

The firm’s unique campus — combining a variety of buildings, lean-tos, campers and other structures with wild growths of grass and more than a few mosquitoes (so don’t forget the bug spray) — helps to set the mood for a production that takes its cues from the conventions of traditional traveling theatrical troupes, children’s theater and even, to an extent, Punch and Judy puppet shows.

Alexis Scott plays Catalina, taking her through a picaresque journey from a spunky 14-year-old escaping from a life as a 17th century nun all the way through to becoming a conquering heroine/genocidal monster in the New World. Scott is perfect for the role, presenting the young Catalina with a charming, bouncy, hysterical energy that combines childlike enthusiasm with a much more adult sense of mania.

The rest of the cast take on a variety of roles (both human and animal) but together serve as a kind of Greek chorus of players simultaneously enacting and reacting to Catalina’s story. Their vibrancy and intentionally hyperbolic antics early in the play provide the show with its strongest conceit — using the over-the-top conventions of children’s theater to tell an increasingly dark, adult story.

Unfortunately, the second half of the play takes an extreme turn away from this conceit. In an attempt to infuse the play with both commentary and poetry, Doss and Wills go a bit too far with the metatextual winking that peppers the play, crossing over from self-referential to self-reverential. This is a shame, because Doss is clearly skilled enough to infuse the play with the messages she is trying to get across without having to resort to such heavy-handed techniques.

Though uneven in its second half, “Catalina de Erauso” is certainly an interesting experiment. Fueled by a broadly talented cast and a distinctive performance venue, it raises vital questions how we can relate — and relate to — history through the veils of fiction and theater.

“Catalina de Erauso”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 30
Where: Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, 8604 FM 969
Cost: $15-$25
Information: 512-686-6621, paperchairs.com

 

Hurricane Harvey inspires a Broadway response in Houston

Just returned from Houston. My large family’s experience with Hurricane Harvey mirrored the wide range felt by other Houstonians. Some weathered heavy damage; others helped out those in need.

Contributed by UPI

You probably have already seen this video, but at least two of my siblings’ neighborhoods looked a lot like this. Or worse. But how clever of someone to see piles of debris and think of the barricades in “Les Miserables.” This sync is rough, touching, big-hearted and a little fun.