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Wednesday
Oct312018

Mill Town's "Romeo and Juliet" Packs Emotional Wallop

By Paul Hyde

Set it where you will, “Romeo and Juliet” can still pack a wallop.

Gregory Middleton as Romeo and Kat Bates as Juliet. Photos by Escobar PhotographyThe Mill Town Players decided to place Shakespeare’s tragedy among hardscrabble mountain folk in 19thcentury Appalachia.

The conceit works well, perhaps because any time period is apropos for a play about how tribal animosities can destroy young love and young lives.

Such hatred has always been with us, and perhaps more so in this election year, as the headlines of the past week attest. 

Director Christopher Rose has given the play, which opening Friday, a hurtling momentum, reducing its famed “two hours’ traffic of our stage” to one hour.

Rose has cut many lines while admirably retaining the heart of the story about the star-crossed lovers from two families divided (in this production like the Hatfields and McCoys) by an ancient feud.

Shakespeare’s words remain unchanged, but they’re delivered with Appalachian accents. Knives and guns take the place of swords. Paris bribes Capulet for his daughter’s hand with a jug of moonshine. If those nods to our own region’s heritage help to bring the play’s message closer to home, all the better.

Another plus: This is an age-appropriate production: Rose’s teenage characters are played by young actors.

Rose’s uptempo production grabs you by the lapels and never releases you. One occasionally longs for more breathing space for dramatic emphasis – or for love to develop. (I believe this play is being prepared for competition where performance time is limited.)

Yet the cruelty of the parents, the rage of the young rivals and the fate of the lovers tug mightily at the heart.

Kat Bates and Gregory Middleton are an appealing pair of impetuous young lovers. Bates is a glowing Juliet. Middleton is the very picture of the wide-eyed besotted swain with his head in the clouds.

The marvelous Cindy Mixon is a standout as the blunt, earthy, garrulous, highly emotional Nurse. She’s terrific.

It’s a pleasure also to see Anne Robards, another veteran of Upstate stages, as the fierce Lady Capulet. 

Ken Thomason has some explosive scenes as the domestic tyrant Capulet.

In a nice bit of non-traditional casting, Kelly Crittendon is a nimble Mercutio, delivering the character’s Queen Mab speech with verve.

Also offering solid contributions are Will Landrum (Benvolio), Al Means (Friar Lawrence), Jason Masters (Paris/Apothecary), Matthew Garrison (Tybalt), Ed Chambers (Montague) and Debbie Chambers (Lady Montague). 

Scenes are pleasingly interspersed with some evocative Appalachian fiddle music.

Will Ragland’s set design features a weather-beaten barn that serves a variety of purposes. Mountains and trees are never out of sight, reminding the audience of the ties that bind these characters to the land.

Beth King’s costumes are excellent – plain, sometimes threadbare and dirty -- suggesting a people burdened by poverty and hard work.

The cast generally articulates Shakespeare’s words clearly and naturally, although a few lines could be enunciated more crisply.

This production of “Romeo and Juliet” continues at Pelzer’s Mill Town Players through Nov. 4. For tickets, call 864-947-8000 or visit the website www.milltownplayers.org.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

Monday
Oct152018

Market Theatre "Addams Family" October Gust of Ghoulish Fun

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

They're creepy and they're kooky -- but mostly kooky.

The Market Theatre Company's "Addams Family" is an October gust of ghoulish fun.

This Halloween treat, which opened Friday, asks very little of an audience except to sit back and bask in the daffiness of the famously macabre Addams clan, familiar to mostly everyone through Charles Addams' classic Dalton Cole, center, stars as Gomez in the musical "Addams Family," continuing through Oct. 28 at The Market Theatre Company in Anderson.New Yorker cartoons and decades of TV and film adaptations.

Director/choreographer Mary Nickles gives us a peppy production of the 2010 musical, which features an appealing score of uptempo numbers and ballads by Andrew Lippa.

The show, written by the "Jersey Boys" team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, centers on a crisis in the Addams family involving Wednesday, the daughter. She's been raised to be a black-clad princess of darkness with a drop-dead stare and a penchant for torturing her little brother Pugsley. 

But, oh the horror, Wednesday has fallen in love with a nice, ordinary young man from a painfully normal Midwestern family. It's even suggested that they're (gasp!) Republicans.

Both families take a dim view of the budding relationship. Cultures clash when the Addams family invites the young man and his parents over to dinner.

The story of mismatched families locking horns over youthful romance is an old one (think "La Cage aux Folles," "Abie's Irish Rose" and "Romeo and Juliet"), but sometimes the star-crossed lovers prevail.

The show tosses in plenty of jokes about death, torture and other dark topics.

Nickles brings clarity and a giddy, playful spirit to the show. I liked Friday's opening performance most when it was most extravagant. I've always thought these Addams characters should be played one step below the campy hams of "Rocky Horror."

Nickles elicits fine performances from her cast.

Leading the revels is Dalton Cole as Gomez, the sword-wielding paterfamilias. Cole opts for understatement in a usually flamboyant role (John Astin on TV, Nathan Lane on Broadway), but his suave approach often pays off handsomely, particularly when Cole applies honeyed vocals to his ballad "Happy Sad," about life's contradictions. It's a tear-jerking moment.

DeAnna Gregory is a bewitching Morticia, cool and poised, with the expected rigor mortis posture, and she brings some strong pipes to her big number, "Just Around the Corner," a blithe song about death. 

Sarah Greene's winning Wednesday is a petite tornado of teenage self-assertion. Greene offers a dynamic account of the song "Pulled," about Wednesday's tumultuous feelings of love.

Sean Johnson plays a cheerfully wacky Uncle Fester, in love with the moon.

Eli Stone is terrific as the spunky young Pugsley.

Libby Riggins does a nice turn as the scratchy-voiced Grandma.

Bill Griffith, wonderful as the undead Lurch, towers above the scene with a world-weary snarl. 

Noah Austin offers a sympathetic portrayal of Wednesday's love interest, Lucas.

Becca Payne plays Lucas' mother Alice, given to nervous laughter and spontaneous rhymes. Late in Act I, Payne's Alice unleashes a powerful voice in her frustrated wife's lament, "Waiting."

Mark Cawood strikes the right note as Alice's stuffy husband (and secret rock fan) Mal.

The ghostly chorus of 10 shakes the Market Theatre rafters with vocal heft.

Sarah Greene's dark-hued and spooky costumes are marvelous.

Julie Florin is responsible for the tight music direction.

Makeup (Kat Bates) and set design (Noah Taylor) also are excellent.

One caveat: On opening night, some of the song lyrics were not as crisply articulated as they might be. Ongoing performances should iron things out.

Theater-goers should note: The show contains a few instances of strong language and sexual innuendo. 

This zany "Addams Family" continues through Oct. 28. For tickets, call 864-729-2999 or visit the website www.themarketanderson.org.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Write to him at paulhydeus@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

Saturday
Oct132018

Ricky Skaggs to Perform Anderson Bluegrass Festival

Many of the best-known names in bluegrass will be on the stage at the civic center Oct. 25-27 forthe Anderson County Bluegrass Festival.

Performers scheduled for the event include: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder; Gene Watson, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Dailey & Vincent, Carolina Blue; The Gibson Brothers; Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys; Little Roy and Lizzie Show; Flat Lonesome; and many more of today's top bluegrass acts including the excellent local band, Tugalo Holler.

Tickets are $45 for VIP day pass, $40 general admission day pass. Three-day passes are $95 for VIP and $90 general admission adult. One-day children passes (ages 7-15) are $25 VIP and $20 general admission. Three-day VIP children passes are $50, and $40 for general admission. Children under seven are admitted free with paying adult. To order tickets, visit adamsbluegrass.com

For more information, visit here.

Camping is available (with no hook ups) at campsites, along with many hotel discounts in Anderson. For tickets and camping, please call 877-282-4650. 

No video or audio recording, no smoking, no pets and no alcohol allowed at this family event.  

For more information, visit here.

Camping is available (with no hook ups) at campsites, along with many hotel discounts in Anderson. For tickets and camping, please call 877-282-4650. 

No video or audio recording, no smoking, no pets and no alcohol allowed at this family event.  

Sunday
Oct072018

Foothills Playhouse Kicks Off New Era with Divine "Godspell"

By Paul Hyde/The Anderson Observer

Easley's Foothills Playhouse is beginning a bright new era with a spirited production of "Godspell."

This high-octane account of Stephen Schwartz's 1971 musical spotlights a talented young local cast withDrew Whitley, foreground, is featured as Jesus in "Godspell," continuing through Oct. 21 at Easley's Foothills Playhouse. (Photo Credit: Escobar Photography)  bountiful vocal power. 

The show, with a pop-rock score, is a contemporary retelling of parables from the Gospels, concluding with scenes from the Last Supper and Crucifixion.

The 12-member ensemble, under the creative direction of Noah Taylor, gleefully embraces the show's over-the-top thrust.

Taylor's joyfully rambunctious staging often boasts the freewheeling exuberance of improv or sketch comedy.

Taylor's actors offer self-assured, committed performances. They occasionally veer off script to toss in local references, some of which got the biggest laughs at Friday's opening night.

This production marks the first show under the playhouse's new executive artistic director, Will Ragland, who hopes to revive the theater's fortunes after a recent period of declining attendance.

Ragland designed the excellent set for "Godspell"-- an abandoned cotton mill, in keeping with the musical's theme of hope in a time of decay and uncertainty.

"Godspell" has always been iconoclastic. Book writer John-Michael Tebelak provides a zippy modern take on familiar biblical stories. The irreverence has a reverent purpose, underscoring that Jesus' ideas, focusing on love rather than money, are ever-young, always challenging and always revolutionary. (An improvised reference to Occupy Easley drives the point home.) 

The show is episodic, exploring one parable after another, with Jesus serving as teacher, and the rest of the ensemble portraying disciples and characters in the stories.

It's remarkable to recall that Schwartz was only in his early 20s when he wrote the music and lyrics for "Godspell" and the equally experimental "Pippin." ("Wicked," his brilliant if more conventional Broadway blockbuster, was 30 years in the future.)

Schwartz's songs hold up well, and this cast delivers them with zest.

When the 12 voices combine as an ensemble, the sound is full and rich.

As Jesus, Drew Whitley balances a commanding presence (he's taller than the rest of the cast) with a gentle voice. He applies honeyed vocals to "Save the People" and but pointedly declaims "Alas For You."

Austin Smith, as Judas and John the Baptist, is nimble in action and voice, offering a sweetly intoned "On the Willows."

Kellsey Vickers provides a lovely account of "Day By Day," one of the show's big hits. Hannah Morton brings a powerhouse voice to "Turn Back, O Man."

Ben Otto Sunderman delivers "We Beseech Thee" with gusto.

Cristin A. Brown sings a warm "By My Side" against the shimmering harmonies of the ensemble.

Also vocally strong are Drew Kenyon ("All Good Gifts") and Nathan Oliver ("Light of the World").

Maggie McNeil and Sims Hall soar on, respectively, "Bless the Lord" and "Learn Your Lessons Well." 

Solid contributions are also offered by Ryvers Martin and Bradley Miller.

Julia Miller and Joshua C. Morton are responsible for the superb musical preparation. Ashley Bingham created the energetic dances.

This production uses recorded music, but the sound is good -- and not too soft in volume. (A rock musical has got to rock.)

This dynamic "Godspell" continues through Oct. 21. For tickets, call 864-855-1817 or visit the website www.foothillsplayhouse.org.

And don't forget to check out the rest of the Foothills Playhouse season: "Elf Jr.: The Musical" (Nov. 30-Dec. 16), "Steel Magnolias" (Feb. 8-24), "Charlotte's Web" (March 29-April 14), "Willy Wonka" (May 31-June 16) and "9 to 5" (July 26-Aug. 18).

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Observer. Write to him at paulhydeus@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

Monday
Sep242018

AU's “Hazel Louise” a Love Letter to Grandmother with Alzheimer's disease

Observer and AU Reports

Anderson University’s Dr. Deborah McEniry will star in the one-woman show “Hazel Louise,” Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Daniel Recital Hall.  

McEniry, chair of the South Carolina School of the Arts at AU, co-wrote the  play “Hazel Louise,” with her cousin Dr. Alicia Corts as a tribute to their late grandmother Hazel Louise Corts.

The play is a love letter to their grandmother, who died in 1998, following her life from the days as a child in Illinois during the Great Depression to her final days in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“Gramz practiced kindness until it became a habit,” McEniry said. “She never spoke harshly to anyone. I think her kindness and thoughtfulness was so habitual that even though she didn’t always know much about what was happening those last few years, she still knew how to be kind and polite.” 

The play is more than a love letter, though.  

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and the only one for which there is no cure or effective treatment, with more than five million suffering from the ailment. It is both progressive and incurable.  

Cindy Alewine, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina, has spent nearly 30 years of her life fighting the disease. 

“The hardest part, I think, is a patient losing their memories,” Alewine said. “Families tell us it’s like losing their loved ones a little bit at a time. They are still there, of course, but they lose their ability to communicate and they lose their personality. They forget who their children and grandchildren are. And that’s so painful.”

It’s a pain McEniry knows well.  

“Even at the very end, she never got that combative spirit that can be common in Alzheimer’s patients,” McEniry said. “She didn’t know my name at the end, but she knew that I was someone she loved and so she just called me ‘sweetheart,’ and that was good enough for me.” 

McEniry hopes her performance will generate awareness that will help lead to a cure. 

“The disease has been around for a long time; Dr. Alzheimer’s discovery took place in 1906,” McEniry said. “The National Institute for Aging was formed in the 1970s. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America was formed in 2002. Significant progress has been made, but more research is needed — particularly with an aging Baby Boomer population. My hope is that the more we can make our public aware of the disease and what it takes from the person and the person’s family, the more we can increase medical research and funding.” 

McEniry will also perform the play (under her stage name, Deborah Colleen White) Oct. 14 at the United Solo Festival on Theatre Row in New York City.