Critics’ Choice Gay Appreciation Award
On behalf of Tony Leggio and myself, I am pleased to announce the nominees for the Critics’ Choice Award that will be presented as part of the 33rd Gay Appreciation Awards (GAA). They are:
The Baltimore Waltz produced by Fat Squirrel
Big Freedia with the LPO presented by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
Little Shop of Horrors produced by Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane University
A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced by The NOLA Project
Roller Soul produced by Kyo Vermeulen
Varla Jean Merman’s Ready to Blow
Where the Suga Still Sweet produced by No Dream Deferred
Works that were produced from August 2022 until now were eligible. The GAA will be presented at Oz New Orleans (800 Bourbon St.) on Saturday, August 19. The event starts at 6pm–SHARP–but come early and walk the Red Carpet with Felicia Phillips and Tiffany Alexander. All are invited to attend.
The Gay Appreciation Awards thanks those individuals and businesses in the LGBTQ community who are often not recognized for the outstanding services they provide and contributions they make. Over 25 categories are voted on by Ambush Magazine readers. The Critics’ Choice Award, however, is selected by Ambush’s two culture vultures who see the vast majority of theater and performing arts events in the Greater New Orleans area. Congratulations to all involved in each of our nominees!
Summertime and the living is easy…and hot and humid. For that and other reasons, there tends not to be too many shows going on in July and August. For those of us, however, who still have a hankering for live performances, here are some shows that will be entertaining us in the next six weeks or so. Go and enjoy!
The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane presents the world’s most famous tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet (July 13-30). Burton Tedesco directs a cast that includes such recognizable local thespians as Khiry Armstead, James Bartelle, Robinson J. Cyprian, Monica R. Harris, Shelley J. Meier, Matthew Raetz, Michael Santos, and Joe Signorelli.
I’m most looking forward, however, to the Juliet of Alexandria Miles who in The NOLA Project’s recent A Midsummer Night’s Dream found the underlying comedy in Hermia’s serious situation (marry the guy she doesn’t love or get thee to a nunnery!), and balanced the two expertly. She’s also impressed in The Family Line, Single Black Female, and, especially, as a fierce yet humbled Electra in The Cuck. More info at https://neworleansshakespeare.org/products/romeo-and-juliet
Also at Tulane, Summer Lyric Theatre closes out its season with Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (July 27-30). Sean Patterson directs Jessie Terrebonne Thompson as Nancy and John Grimsley as Fagin, two of our town’s top actors. I played the Artful Dodger in summer camp when I was 9 years old. I’ll try not to sing along out loud. Tickets at https://www.tix.com/ticket-sales/summerlyrictheatre/6927?productionidlist=202565,202643,202648
The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans will be presenting Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth (July 28-Aug. 13) at The Marigny Opera House, returning for its fifth production in the historic space. In this piece, Williams dove into the human impulse to fly when faced with adversity, the tolls of aging, and the challenges of remaining pure in a hostile world.
Local actor Doug Spearman, best known for Logo’s Noah’s Arc, makes his New Orleans directorial debut with this production. “The show promises a raw and contemporary retelling of a Williams classic,” said Spearman. “The brilliance of Tennessee Williams is that he never stops showing our humanity.”
Santo Panzarella and Rachel Whitman Groves in Sweet Bird of Youth (photo by James Kelley)
The cast is headed by Rachel Whitman Groves as Princess Kosmonopolis and Santo Panzarella as Chance Wayne. Chance has returned to his home town of St. Cloud on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a chauffeur and paid lover to the Princess—a movie star who fears she is over the hill. Chance hopes to reconnect with his sweetheart Heavenly (Betsy Holt), but her father Boss Finley (John Wettermark) has different plans for Chance…and a whole town full of minions to execute those plans.
The cast also includes Judy Lea Steele, Brandi-Rose Michael, Brandon Kotfila, Spencer Crim, Rashif Holmes, Rachel Rhea Shannon, Matthew Boese, Andrew Niemann, Benjamin Dougherty, and Robert A. Mitchell. Tickets and more information at https://ci.ovationtix.com/35398/production/1146601
Fat Squirrel continues its second season with Star-Crossed, A Midsummer Nightmare (Aug. 14-24), conceived and directed by Artistic Director Andrea Watson, at Gallier Hall’s Ty Tracy Theatre.
Star-Crossed brings together beloved characters from over 17 of the Bard’s works and presents them with unexpected and non-traditional entanglements. The darker themes and texts from plays like Richard III, King Lear, Othello and others are thrust upon familiar characters like Oberon, Mercutio, Juliet and even Juliet’s Nurse, as audiences are presented with a new “fictional reality” that is both sensual and frightening. The words and themes are Shakespeare, but the story is a fantastical new take on the canon. More info at https://fatsquirrelnola.square.site/upcoming
On July 28 at NOCCA’s Lupin Memorial Hall, NOBA’s summer session culminates with its annual Summer Dance Concert, featuring works created and set by EVIDENCE Artistic Director and internationally renowned choreographer Ronald K. Brown and Associate Artistic Director Arcell Cabuag, as well as esteemed artists of the Complexions Contemporary Ballet, founded in 1994 by master choreographer Dwight Rhoden and acclaimed dancer Desmond Richardson.
Local dancers will take the stage alongside Complexions Contemporary Ballet guest artists Jourdan Epstein and Terk Lewis, as well as EVIDENCE artists Austin Coats and Isaiah Harvey. A highlight of the evening’s program will include a special performance of Brown’s duet “March”, set to a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and danced by Coats and Harvey. Tickets available at https://noba-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/NOBA/?event_ids=413#/events
On the Northshore, Playmakers Theater of Covington presents Shrek The Musical Jr. (July 22-Aug. 6), based on the Oscar-winning animated film and Broadway musical. It’s a “big bright beautiful world” as everyone’s favorite ogre, Shrek, leads a cast of fairytale misfits on an adventure to rescue a princess and find true acceptance. Jennifer Patterson directs this part-romance and part-twisted fairy tale extravaganza. More info and tickets at https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/home
And in Mandeville, 30 by Ninety Theatre kicks off its new season with Always A Bridesmaid (Aug. 12-27). “For better or for worse” takes on a whole new meaning in this comedy about old friends, directed by Tonya Lagman.
On the night of their senior prom, Libby Ruth (Andrea Elu), Deedra (Lindsey Andry), Monette (Amy Riddell), and Charlie (Merry Antoon) promise that they will be bridesmaids in one another’s weddings…no matter what. Now, more than thirty years later, these Southern gals are still making “the long walk” for each other, determined to honor that vow. More info at https://30byninety.com/shows/always-a-bridesmaid/
Little Shop of Horrors at Tulane’s Summer Lyric Theatre
Tulane’s Summer Lyric Theatre‘s recent Little Shop of Horrors was an absolutely wonderful evening of musical theater.
By approaching it as drama, or at least something that didn’t need any camping up, Director John “Ray” Proctor brought out the moral complexities of the show that often get overlooked. I don’t want to make it sound like King Lear, but this production engaged me in the choices the characters make in a way others have not. And the staging was beautifully fluid, taking full advantage of Rick Paul’s well-detailed and aptly designed set that filled Tulane’s large stage.
Little Shop may not be a “dance” musical but Jarrell Hamilton’s choreography was imaginative, wonderfully period-specific and character-defining.
They say lighting doesn’t strike the same spot twice but in Keith Claverie’s performance as Seymour, it sure did. A 2004 Ambie Award winner for the lovable flower wrangler, once again he brought the same truthfulness, empathy and ineffable pizzazz to Seymour as he does to his Shakespeare performances. Rubbery of face and limb, 19 years later, Claverie was still rendering an award-winning performance.
As Audrey, another Claverie, Leslie, gave an equally fantastic performance. Her shopgirl who’s done “terrible things in her past” (which really aren’t all that terrible) was perfectly calibrated–a mix of Marilyn Monroe-esque sexiness, well-earned pathos, and an underlying toughness all wrapped up in the warmest of hearts–and then delivered with a singing voice that both soared and floated, while always scrupulously attentive to the lyrics (a rare feat); by the end, she reminded me of La Boheme‘s Mimi.
Leslie and Keith Claverie in Little Shop of Horrors
Sean Patterson didn’t so much “act” Mr. Mushnik as inhabit him, his innate niceness counterbalancing Mushnik’s conniving ways, a dark portrayal lightly done.
Aaron Brewer made Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, a rogue you love to hate and keenly delineated his other small but telling roles.
One expects the actor who voices Audrey II to have a booming basso voice. Deiveon Martinsen certainly had that but, even more importantly, his diction was flawless; I caught some of Howard Ashman’s witty lyrics that I never quite got before. I look forward to seeing him as Bill Sikes in the upcoming Oliver! (see above).
And when is “stunt” casting not a stunt? When you have the Mixon sisters, Jessica, Whitney and Olivia as Chiffon, Ronette & Crystal, the show’s girl group Greek chorus. The three siblings charmed, sashayed and sang their way, gorgeously, throughout the show. One only wished they had even more to do. Could someone please write a musical version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters for them?!
Puppeteers Casen Jude Guttuso and Payton Wilks brought Audrey II to believably scary life manipulating its tongue and tendrils with magical precision.
Other Shops are certain to blossom and bloom in the future but this one might just be the most glorious Little Shop of Horrors we’re ever likely to see.