The Broadway in Louisville production of the smash hit “Wicked” opened Thursday at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical depicts the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good, polar opposite witches from the classic tale “The Wizard of Oz,” as schoolgirls struggling with their ambitions, convictions and loyalty in an oppressive political climate.The musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, with music and lyrics by Stephen (“Pippin”) Schwartz and book by Winnie (“My So-Called Life”) Holzman, a master of verbally-dexterous teen speak. The musical opened on Broadway in 2003 (where it still runs in the Gershwin Theatre) and won three Tony Awards, nine Drama Desk Awards and the 2005 Grammy Award for best musical show album.The story begins with residents of Oz celebrating the death (“No One Mourns the Wicked”) of the Wicked Witch of the West (Christine Dwyer) under the uneasy leadership of Glinda the Good (Jeanna de Waal), who then flashes back to their days together at Shiz University, where brainy Elphaba, as she was known, and popular Galinda (the name change came later) were unlikely roommates and rivals for the attention of the dashing Fiyero (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and the imperious headmistress Madame Morrible (Marilyn Caskey). Elphaba’s sister Nessarose (Catherine Charlebois), later of ruby slipper fame, is wheelchair bound, and Elphaba has to reconcile her life-long role as Nessa’s caregiver with her own ambitions at school.Even if – or especially if – you’ve seen “Wicked” before, catch this production before the run at the Kentucky Center ends on September 30. Dwyer and de Waal are spectacular as Elphaba and Glinda, and both fans and neophytes alike will appreciate all that they bring to the stage.Director Joe Mantello’s “Wicked” remains a visually stunning show, from the gorgeous steampunk-infused movable Dragon Time Clock set (Eugene Lee), to the quirky, multi-colored, –layered and –textured costumes (Susan Hilferty), makeup and hair. Yes, both witches defy gravity in their own way. Schwartz’s award-winning songs hit all the right emotional notes at each pivotal point in the narrative, and the ensemble and supporting cast are all at the top of their form.With an overall effect that’s equal parts spectacle and heart, the degree to which individual performers can make or break a show of this quality is minute, but significant.Landing a starring role in a tour as beloved as “Wicked” is a curious thing for a performer. On one hand, you don’t really have to worry about reception – especially for a musical like “Wicked,” which continues to break house records on Broadway and has toured successfully for years. They’re going to like you (really, really like you!), because you’re playing largely to an audience that already knows and loves the show. But there’s the double edge. Elphaba and Galinda are amazing roles – vocally demanding and emotionally rich, and the love triangle in this story is very much secondary to the complex friendship between two girls who grow up to become the most powerful women in Oz. The characters are idiosyncratic, multi-faceted and still deeply associated with their originating (and incredibly distinctive) performers, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth.For another actress to give a unique interpretation of either character is to walk a very fine line between giving a passionate audience of “Wicked” fans what they expect and continuing to infuse a beloved character with new spirit and energy. It’s difficult to quantify exactly what Dwyer and de Waal bring to their roles other than the requisite vocal chops and acting ability. Both have an extra helping of charisma, and together they have chemistry, the kind that creates extra sparks that can’t be created or enhanced by special effects.My job is to watch a show and explain how and why it works (or fails). I can’t exactly explain why Dwyer and de Waal are so compelling as Elphaba and Galinda, but they are. Maybe it’s because both actresses bring to light the traits Elphaba and Galinda share – ambition, intelligence, wit, fierce loyalty – and downplay their superficial differences in a subtle but very effective manner. But it’s also in how they manage to turn the tables on their expected significant characteristics. Dwyer’s thousand-watt grin is simply dazzling, while de Waal’s eyes brim with soul and unrealized yearning for meaning and purpose. By the end of the second act, when Elphaba and Glinda sing “because I knew you / I have been changed for good,” it’s not just a line. It’s written on their faces in a way that is wholly theirs, unlike any other duo to play these roles. Does it sound like alchemy? A little. But it works.
The touring production of the Broadway hit “Wicked” previews today and opens Thursday evening at the Kentucky Center. The Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical depicts "The Wizard of Oz" characters Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda the Good as schoolgirls in an oppressive political regime.Performances of “Wicked” often sell out, but a limited number of steeply discounted orchestra-level tickets will be placed on sale the day of each performance.“Two and a half hours before the show begins, show up in the lobby at the Kentucky Center. You’ll put your name into a drum. Thirty minutes later the drawing will be done," says Broadway in Louisville spokesperson Matthew Porter. "If your name is drawn you’ll be able to go to the box office and purchase front orchestra seats." Those lottery seats will cost $25 for seats that usually sell for $87.75 (cash only, limit two tickets). “Wicked” previews today and opens Thursday evening at the Kentucky Center. The show runs through September 30."Wicked" fans who aspire to the stage will have an opportunity to take a master class in dance or vocal audition from members of the cast. The classes will be taught by members of the ensemble, those cast members who cover several different roles during the course of a show.“What you can expect is to learn from real touring professionals what it takes to be in a big touring Broadway show," says Broadway in Louisville spokesperson Matthew Porter.The master classes will be held on Saturday, September 22, 10 a.m.-noon, at St. Stephens United Church of Christ on Farnsley Road. The class costs $30 and is open to performers ages 10 and up. Proceeds from the class benefit HIV/AIDS charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For more information, contact the Sutton Studio for the Performing Arts at (502) 594-2746.
Mayor Greg Fischer announced today that Metro Hall will host a rotating series of art exhibits curated by local artists. The Rotunda Art Project is part of the mayor's on-going efforts to make Metro Hall (601. W. Jefferson St.) a community gathering place. The first show, "You are here," was curated by The Ground Floor Gallery and features four Louisville artists. Work by Jacob Heustis, Bryce Hudson, Sarah Lyon and Carlos Gamez de Francisco will be on display through November 1. The free exhibit is open during Metro Hall public hours, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Security check and a photo ID are required to enter.
Filming for "Pleased to Meet Me," directed by Louisville filmmaker Archie Borders, wraps this week in Louisville. The crew needs 800 extras today to comprise the audience for the finale, a concert scene filmed at the Brown Hotel. Participants should arrive at the Brown (315 W. Broadway) at 5:30 p.m. for filming. "Pleased to Meet Me" is based on a This American Life segment produced by Starlee Kine and stars musicians John Doe (of X fame) and Aimee Mann as a musician/producer duo who comb the classifieds to assemble a band. The cast also includes Grammy Award winners Loudon Wainwright III and Joe Henry, as well as several local musicians and actors. Listen to director Archie Borders chat about the film on Byline.
A new exhibit at 21C Museum Hotel features the work of ten graduate students from the Yale School of Architecture. The students were challenged to design a distillery for a proposed site on Main Street. Their projects take into consideration concerns over Louisville’s agricultural and manufacturing climate as well as the mechanics of the distillery process.Scale models line the north and south walls of the gallery. A garage door that takes up the east wall was open to the street on the evening of the exhibit’s reception. Posters with schematics, artistic renderings and infographics hang behind each structure.The projects are not intended for development, but serve as inspiring proposals for the kinds of manufacturing facilities that could provide viable job alternatives to the city. Production facilities offer economic diversity in Louisville’s predominantly service driven market. The end results are both innovative and striking.Seema Kairam’s River Bend Bourbon facilitates a three-tiered system of production in which craft distillers and amateur enthusiasts are accommodated alongside an industrial process. Shared expenses and equipment remove hurdles for fledgling entrepreneurs while cultivating an atmosphere of engagement between the industry leaders and the public.Alley Industries by Diana Nee is designed to span the alley between Main and Market. The building’s design allows for the continued use of the alley for “service functions” and also includes the use of waste materials from the distillation process for energy production.Margaret Hu designed her facility as a branding device where the “direct circulation for the flow of materials contrasts against a highly choreographed path for the flow of visitors.” A massive wheel in one corner of the structure delivers bourbon barrels between floors.The exhibit runs through September 24 in Gallery 4.
The new season at Actors Theatre of Louisville is off to a rousing start with an energized and stylish contemporary production of William Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet.” The season opener is both a homecoming for the director, Louisville native Tony Speciale, and a bright sign of things to come for the theater with new artistic director Les Waters at the helm.“Romeo and Juliet” opened Thursday and runs through September 26 in the Pamela Brown Auditorium. Learn more about what happens behind the scenes at “Cocktails with the Cast” after the September 13 show, or enjoy a moderated conversation with the artists after the September 16 matinee.The story of Juliet (the luminous Elvy Yost) and her Romeo (Grantham Coleman, appropriately dreamy and dashing) is so well-known and -loved that references to it border on cliché. The teenage children of wealthy rival families fall in love at a party and secretly marry, but when tension between the clans turns violent and tears them apart, a plot to reunite them fails and ends in their tragic suicides. The biggest challenge for a company mounting a Shakespeare production—especially “Romeo and Juliet,” easily the most familiar work of the Bard—is how to make the play feel fresh and necessary, so the emotional impact of the timeless story is made as accessible as possible.While Shakespeare's language remains as muscular and vital as always (Mercutio's “we burn daylight, ho!” gets a new laugh in a contemporary context), there's a lot that doesn't translate easily about 16th century Verona's customs, which drive the action of the play. Speciale, a former member of the Actors Theatre apprentice company, is the associate artistic director of New York's Classic Stage Company. In an earlier interview, Speciale said he likes to approach a classical play as if each production were a brand-new script, taking nothing for granted as settled.This technique works wonders on “Romeo and Juliet,” now updated to the affluent American suburbs, where nihilistic boredom and an illusion of safety allow routine small-town antagonism between old money Montagues and nouveau riche Capulets to build to a fever pitch. Fight scenes (under the direction of Adam Rihacek) are savage, but no less so is the Capulet party, a hedonistic display that distracts the Capulets from how adrift Juliet has become from the family and household.The Capulets’ flashy, sexy lifestyle echoes the reality television programs that follow “real housewives” and celebutantes around upscale suburban developments in Southern California. Daniel Zimmerman's white modernist set, complete with a focal point of a swimming pool, is both luxurious and stark, like the Capulets—stylish, but with little warmth.Lord Capulet (Bruce McKenzie) is an aging hipster with anger issues. Lady Capulet (Amy Morse) is his trophy wife, barely 17 herself when she had Juliet and still glamorous, yet very much subservient to her powerful husband's whims. She struggles to connect with her daughter, whose closest family is her nurse, an often-thankless comic relief role played with panache and heart by Myra Lucretia Taylor. Yost's Juliet is a flighty nervous talker, but anger and frustration simmer barely under her surface until Verona’s violence and her impending arranged marriage to wealthy and connected Paris (Matthew Stucky) shake her into taking control of her life, to tragic end.Lord and Lady Capulet's house crawls with a louche cadre of cousins and hangers-on, drinking all the good beer and playing violent Xbox games while waiting for something exciting to happen. When the Montague boys crash a Capulet after-school pool party, that first inciting insult—“do you bite your thumb at me?”—is translated into an unmistakable lewd and demeaning gesture that reads loud and clear for today's audience.The tone of the first half of the play is somewhat comic, though the violence always lurks. The ribald humor of the teen boys (tempered somewhat by sensible Montague cousin Benvolio, the stalwart Ben Diskant) is writ with the body as much as the tongue, and the young lovers are set on a romantic comedy path until Mercutio (an electrifying Nate Miller, whose freestyling wit is the freshest take on Mercutio I've seen) and Tybalt (Jordan Dean) die in a prolonged fight outside of a nightclub, set to sound designer Christian Frederickson's thumping techno score. The love story turns to tragedy in one scene.Scenes between Romeo and Juliet are marked with a sweet, simple beauty that stand in sharp contrast to the amped-up excess surrounding them, like the sparklers they light during their first kiss as the rest of the party watches custom fireworks behind them, and Romeo's video diary projected on the wall behind them as they cuddle in bed after their wedding night. That scene echoes in the tragic denouement when Romeo's video confessional plays on the wall of the morgue for the horrified survivors.It would be easy to cast the Capulets as the villains in this rendition. They're loud and vulgar, and cousin Tybalt escalates the conflict significantly by introducing the real threat of violence. But as the head of House Montague, Romeo's mother (Lord and Lady have been rolled into one character) might be prone to more classic displays of wealth and position—her luxury briefcase to Lady Capulet's designer jeans—but she is no more aware of her son's life and immersed as deeply in her aristocratic position as the Capulets are in securing their own through marrying Juliet to the Kennedy-esque Paris. And so the play indicts the empty struggle to attain and maintain status and wealth, highlighting all that they cannot shield you from.
It’s now estimated that 750-thousand people, two and a half percent of the population, died in the American Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. A new documentary from filmmaker Ric Burns explores how the scale of the war’s carnage forced Americans and woefully unprepared government officials to deal with death on a massive scale.It’s called Death and the Civil War and will premiere on September 18 as part of the American Experience series on PBS. WFPL's Rick Howlett caught up with Ric Burns Friday on Byline.
It’s fine to hit the downtown First Friday Trolley Hop without a plan. Park, wander in and out of galleries, grab a drink or dinner with friends and hop a TARC trolley from one end of downtown to the next and back—you’re sure to find something to catch your eye or ears.But with so many events and gallery receptions happening at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so every month we take a look at five don’t-miss art events happening during the hop.Cressman Center for Visual Arts: "Retrospect"—The University of Louisville's Photographic Archives celebrate 50 years with an exhibit pairing contemporary photographs with archival images. Featuring work by Shelby Lee Adams, Sarah Lyon, Paul Paletti and more. 100 E. Main St.Tim Faulkner Gallery: "Art from the Other Side" and "Funny Things Girls Say"—Dan Rhema's found object sculptures take over the second floor industrial space at Tim Faulkner's Butchertown art emporium. Rhema's work his recovery from a near-death experience. Steve Bowman's robot drawings explore modern relationships. 943 Franklin St.Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft: Storytelling as Craft,Chapter One—A month-long celebration of a new exhibit begins Friday with an artist talk by Louisville native Mindy Shapero and a performance by Ellie Ga. Read more. 715 W. Main St.Actors Theatre of Louisville: "Grace and Form"—This year-and-a-half collaboration between photographer Julius Friedman and dancer Erica de la O will be on exhibit in the Actors Theatre lobby gallery through September 26. 316 W. Main St.Bourbon Baroque Cantata Series—Louisville's baroque chamber ensemble presents two free 30-minute performances (7:30 and 8:30 p.m.) at St. John's United Church of Christ. They’re casual, social and free—not your typical classical music setting. 637 E. Market St.
The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft opens a month-long celebration of the new exhibit “Storytelling as Craft, Chapter One” tomorrow with oral and visual stories. The exhibit runs through November 11. During Friday's trolley hop, Louisville native Mindy Shapero, who has several pieces in the exhibit, will give an artist lecture at 7 p.m. Shapero is a graduate of Manual High School whose work has been exhibited internationally. This will be her first professional exhibit in Louisville. Museum director Aldy Milliken has followed Shapero’s career closely over the last decade. In 2006, he exhibited her art work in his gallery in Stockholm, where he lived before relocating to Louisville last year.“She’s been someone who’s always captured my eye with the way she makes her work. It’s very meticulous, very much a craft-based work," says Milliken. "She uses textiles and fabrics. She layers a lot of her sculptures. When I started getting to know the art scene here in Louisville, I saw different connections to why she chose her pieces or motifs."Artist in residence Ellie Ga will also present “The Fortunetellers" throughout September. "The Fortunetellers" is a narrative performance art project conceived during a six-month stay on a boat in the Arctic polar ice caps.Milliken says the "Storytelling as Craft" exhibit and its related events are one way the craft museum can challenge the borders between art disciplines and genres.“Performance art was always something that was important to me as a curator," says Milliken. "I’m always interested in how artists tell their stories, whether it’s verbal or through their work, through their textiles or sculptures.” The exhibit will feature artists whose work is explicitly craft-based, like wood carver Edgar Tolson. It will also include six pieces by conceptual self-portraitist Cindy Sherman, whose work Milliken wants to examine in a craft context. "She’s not someone who’s taking self-portraits. She’s drawing on our stereotypical knowledge and stereotypical references and building on them. So it’s really interesting to look at her as a folk artist in a sense," he says.Affrilachian Poet Frank X Walker will also make an appearance later in the month. Amateur storytellers are invited to take the stage during exhibit hours and tell a story. Video from the storytelling stage will be streamed live on the KMAC website. Also happening during exhibit hours September 19-22 is a collaborative staged reading of Homer's "The Iliad," presented in conjunction with IdeaFestival and Classical Academy Louisville. "Everyone’s an artist, everyone can be a part of this exhibition, even if they’re not a professional artist," says Milliken.
The Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, which provides free studio arts education to talented students, will suspend its new media program for the next fiscal year. The suspension addresses a budget shortfall caused by state spending cuts. In the 25 years since its founding, GSA has doubled in size, serving 225 students in nine disciplines during its last summer residential program. Suspending the new media program will cover a little more than half of GSA’s $50,000 budget shortfall, the result of the 8.4 percent state budget cuts enacted this year to address Kentucky’s structural deficit. GSA is an agency of the state tourism, arts and heritage cabinet.Executive director Carrie Nath says the organization suspended one discipline rather than cut student spots across the board that could compromise the overall quality of the program.“Faculty numbers would have to drop down potentially to one (per discipline). In a discipline that, such as new media, requires filmmaking, still shot photography, Claymation, one teacher expected to teach that effectively over a three-week period, you’re now putting the integrity of the program into question,” says Nath.New media students study digital imagery, video production and animation under the direction of two faculty teaching artists. The program suspension will affect the summer residential program, which employs selective admission based on open auditions, as well as the new media workshops offered around the state as part of GSA's Artshop program. Eighteen hundred high school students auditioned for 225 spots in nine disciplines for last summer’s residential program. The new media program hosted twelve students. Nath says discipline demand helped determine which program to suspend, but there are always qualified students on the alternate list who aren’t admitted for budgetary reasons.“We offer the program tuition-free. We do not charge the students, but we do need to pay for those students,” says Nath. Suspending new media will save GSA about $27,000 this year. GSA will also decrease the number of free open Artshops from six to four. Nath says more cuts are coming to cover the remainder of the shortfall.
Louisville's CenterStage theater company continues its season this week with the regional premiere of the acclaimed rock musical “Next to Normal.” The show explores the impact of mental illness on a suburban family.Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s “Next to Normal” opened on Broadway in 2009 and won three Tony Awards, but when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010, it joined the ranks of only a handful of musicals to earn that distinction.The musical has been praised for its unflinching portrayal of the Goodmans, a family that struggles to stay afloat while dealing with mother Diana’s bipolar disorder, as well as its powerful and thought-provoking approach to depicting mental illness.“Pretty much everyone is affected by mental illness, whether directly or indirectly, and I think it’s important to put a human face to what these illnesses are and do,” says artistic director John Leffert, who also directs this production. “We don’t have to pigeonhole them into what our society calls normal.”“It’s not a play about the illness—I want to be clear about that. It’s a play about the family and how the relationships are affected by everything that’s going in on their lives,” Leffert adds. “Next to Normal” opens Thursday at the Jewish Community Center’s Linker Auditorium and runs through September 16.After each performance, CenterStage will accept donations for six local agencies that work with people affected by mental illness, including Brooklawn Child and Family Services and Seven Counties. Next Tuesday’s performance will be a special fundraiser to benefit Bridgehaven, where the artistic staff conducted research while preparing for the show.“Next to Normal” is the second musical in CenterStage’s season, which opened with “Rent” in July. CenterStage will open “Ragtime” in October and “Company” in January, rounding out their season with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Deramcoat” in February and the subversive puppet musical “Avenue Q” in April.Leffert says that although CenterStage is not strictly a musical theater company, in tighter economic times his audience calls for more musicals.“We’ve chosen some shows that might be a bit more cutting-edge, might challenge our audience a little bit,” says Leffert. “We’re finding that our audience wants to see that edgy theater. Sometimes, though our older audience might want to see those classic musicals, but our younger audience doesn’t, really. We try to find a perfect mix.”