“Uncle” Wayne Daigrepont at Andrea’s Restaurant on June 19
When Jefferson Parish moved into Phase 2, live entertainment began to make a comeback. And what a pleasure it was recently to head out to Andrea’s Restaurant (3100 19th St., Metairie) to enjoy the music and esprit of the ridiculously talented Wayne Daigrepont.
With impish humor, “Uncle” Wayne, as he’s known around town, holds court in Andrea’s’ Capri Blu Piano Bar on occasional Fridays. A diminutive man with an outsize personality, “Uncle” Wayne may always be quick with a joke and a laugh but there’s nothing goofy about his piano stylings.
Notes tumble forth when this adorable pixie sits down to make music. His marvelous playing may be reminiscent of Liberace but, rather than feathers and sequins, he sports a Tweety Bird vest and straw boater. And always a smile.
“Uncle” Wayne prompts people to request songs from the catalog of 900+ that he knows. Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein and all the other classics (and not-so classics) from the Great American Songbook are his bag as well as most show tunes. Except for late 20th and 21st century ones. The Phantom of the Opera is about as recent as he gets.
From The Wizard of Oz’ If I Only Had a Brain to beautiful medleys of the scores of Cabaret and The Sound of Music, with effortless ease Daigrepont brings modern baroque interpretations to songs that are instantly recognizable.
Asked to do something from Fiddler on the Roof, rather than the typical klezmer approach, “Uncle” Wayne provided an inventively jazzified take on the numbers of this beloved musical. When someone suggested he play “17” (don’t ask), he immediately responded with Sound of Music’s Sixteen Going on Seventeen. Sharp as a tack he is. Want something classical? He can even do Carmen. Exquisitely.
Audience sing-alongs are encouraged and often theater people in the crowd will step up to sing a song or two. Alas, the theater folk had yet to reemerge when I was there but I did get four well-cocktailed women doing a kickline to New York, New York. In these socially distanced times, it was slightly surreal.
The Capri Blu Piano Bar offers a thoroughly relaxed atmosphere where you can meet up with old friends and easily make new ones. As the evening progressed, renowned Chef Andrea Apuzzo came to hang out there as well. A Marx Brothers movie silently played on the room’s large TV screen which was fine with me and certainly an improvement over what I was told is usually a sports game.
“Uncle” Wayne is generally given only a few days’ notice as to when he’ll be appearing, but he will be performing again on Friday, June 19, from 8 to 11pm. You may want to friend him on Facebook so you can see his cute cartoon-inspired notifications of upcoming gigs. After going out to Andrea’s, you’ll be happy to say “I tawt I taw ‘Uncle’ Wayne! I did! I did taw ‘Uncle’ Wayne!”
Though Orleans Parish theaters remain dark for now, venues in the surrounding parishes are hoping to begin lighting up next month; three have already announced plans to do so. While I encourage you to support these local companies, best to check with them to confirm performances will be going on as scheduled and to find out what measures they have in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
First up is Rivertown Theaters which will be presenting Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, July 9-19. First seen on television in 1957, the musical was adapted by Douglas Carter Beane for the stage and debuted on Broadway in 2013. Featuring seven classic R&H songs (inc. Impossible, Ten Minutes Ago, A Lovely Night, etc.), Cinderella will give us a “happily ever after” ending which we all could use these days. (www.rivertowntheaters.com)
Next, Playmakers of Covington kicks off with the classic musical A Chorus Line, July 18-26. If you haven’t been to this playhouse on the North Shore, one of the oldest continuously operating community theaters in the U.S., this would be a great opportunity to visit and see the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning show about Broadway gypsies which is dedicated to “anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step…anywhere.” (playmakers-theater-05.webself.net)
Last, 30 by Ninety Theatre in Mandeville promises “side-splitting hilarity” with The Hallelujah Girls, July 18–Aug. 2. In it, five feisty females of Eden Falls, Georgia, decide to shake up their lives after the loss of a dear friend causes them to realize that time is precious, and if they’re going to achieve their dreams, they have to get on it now. After months of quarantining and sheltering-in-place, sounds like a very good idea. (30byninety.com)
Some other recent updates come from the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival which announced that its 2020 shows, Twelfth Night and Troilus and Cressida, have been rescheduled for Summer 2021, as has Summer Lyric Theatre’s regional premiere of the Tony winner Once. A Night with Janis Joplin, which was to have been playing at Le Petit now, has also been postponed but new dates have not yet been determined.
For those of you not quite ready to venture out yet, new offerings continue to become available online.
José Torres-Tama’s Video Cortaditos & Picante Performance Poems is a series of YouTube shorts that are informed by this poet/actor/performer’s politically charged spoken word poems. Español Is Verboten Here is a multilingual “sci-fi Latino noir” celebrating the diverse people of GrinGoLandia making radical love across racial borders to create a hybrid nation (www.youtube.com/watch?v=xugjeuK224s). And What If After So Many Words takeson Confederate-flag-Loving-Christian-Right-Wing Militants (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4Pqvwuk3-E).
Torres-Tama’s newest release, Symbolic Opponent Syndrome/SOS/Remembering the Dispossessed, addresses police violence against Black and Brown people, as well as the brutal murder of Jessica Hernandez, a Mexican LGBQT teenager, who was gunned down by white Denver police. Jessie, as she was known, was an active leader in Denver’s LGBQT community, and 800 people turned out to mourn the brutal point-blank killing of this bright soul (www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9DBnzhoBao).
In a much lighter vein, the June online edition of Debauchery!, New Orleans’ only kind-of-live, ongoing soap opera hosted by Southern Rep Theatre, will feature a psychic who shares a vision she had with the utterly dysfunctional family created by Pat Bourgeois. To find out what this vision is, purchase a “ticket” at www.facebook.com/events/260455651696751 and a link to the online episode will be emailed to you before showtime on Wednesday, June 24; it will be available for viewing through June 30.
If you need a laugh, and can’t wait for Debauchery!, check out Grenadine in Quarantine in which Running with Scissors’ dysfunctional McGunkle family and assorted friends deal with the pandemic in their own unique way. It’s 9½ minutes of laughs at www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1522650211229974
PAST PRESENT FUTURE III
For the third PAST PRESENT FUTURE, Augustin J Correro and Nick Shackleford let us know what was going on at the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company when things shut down, what it’s doing now, and what plans they have for its future.
Reviewing Suddenly Last Summer last year, I wrote “Correro [who directed] creates an eerie, at time expressionistic landscape of the mind perfectly suited to Williams’ heightened language…beautifully sustaining the tension throughout.” I have consistently admired Shackleford’s sound designs as well as his performances in The Normal Heart and Jesus Christ Superstar.
The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans (TWTC) was founded in 2015. We spent the first four and a half years bouncing between barrooms, fellowship halls, and other nontraditional spaces as we struggled to make our way in the challenging but rewarding theatrical landscape of New Orleans.
In 2019, we began our partnership with Loyola University New Orleans and broke basically all of our records (attendance, financial, etc.). We started 2020 finally feeling like we were hitting a sustainable stride.
In early March, when COVID-19 began to enter conversations in a serious way, we were deep in rehearsals for our spring production, In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. By the middle of the month, we knew a call had to be made.
On March 12 at about 5pm, two hours before one of the very last rehearsals prior to tech week, we called Patrick Gendusa at Loyola, then the show’s director Torey Hayward, followed by Tracy Cunningham at the Tennessee Williams Festival (with whom we were collaborating), and our production manager Maddie Taliancich. We let them all know that we had made the decision to cancel for the safety of our artists and audiences
After this surreal series of calls, it was done. We had cancelled our first show. Our set had been built, costumes designed and altered, four large TV screens had been installed for what was going to be our most technologically complex production to date. The actors were in a good place. Then everything got swept away.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a reckoning for us. It was humbling. All the work we had done to establish the company was suddenly cast into a seemingly interminable limbo. We had always imagined the first time we’d need to cancel was going to be for a hurricane; COVID-19 took us all by surprise.
We knew it wasn’t going to be some quick thing, either. We would need to make a decision about our summer production, Summer and Smoke, which was already cast, and determine future revenue streams, overall safety concerns, and–most importantly–how we could continue to serve our loyal, daring audience in this new, still-evolving paradigm.
During the Great Intermission, we have continued programming, though intermittently.
It began when Board Member Nori Pritchard approached us about a project that became No Pants Shakespeare. Our online “staged” reading of As You Like It was a successful experiment in using technology to bring theater to the homes of stir-crazy folks like us.
Nori’s husband Nat Twarog (a local actor who had previously worked with us) connected a Zoom meeting to a streaming platform in the vein of the Twitch program, allowing over a dozen actors to be onscreen and connected at one time.
No Pants Shakespeare didn’t end with As You Like It–we followed it with a presentation of The Tempest. Both readings are accessible at https://bit.ly/NoPantsShakes. Other companies worldwide quickly joined the online staging arena, and now there’s a plethora of material to choose from…but viewers and theater-makers alike agree that it’s not the same.
Without the crackle of connection and in-person catharsis, we know that theater isn’t, well…theater. That’s why we’ve been working alongside other local theater leaders to acknowledge the challenges and prepare to meet them when the occasion presents itself.
In the meantime, we’re biding our time, examining and streamlining our operations, and looking for ways to ensure that when we do make our return to the stage, TWTC will be better than ever.
It also must be stated that we’re in a historic moment alongside another historic moment. While constantly negotiating risk involved with the pandemic, we are listening to renewed calls from Black communities to stand up, pay attention, and change the way theater serves audiences and artists. We’re working diligently to rise to that occasion, another important aspect of our current focus.
Everything is currently in a state of flux, even as we begin to return to “normal”.
Theater will surely be one of the last types of events that audiences will feel comfortable returning to, but we take heart in the knowledge that theater as an art form has survived in every culture globally, through literally every disaster, upheaval, and pandemic. We will pull through this and we know that people will always be hungry for compelling stories and good company.
Our next production will be For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls by Christopher Durang. It’s a campy spoof of The Glass Menagerie and will be paired with a couple of other short plays that lovingly poke fun at Williams plays.
Most of the roles have been filled, the rights are secured, and whether Southern Bell occupies its original slot or gets moved up, it will be the production we share with audiences once the COVID-19 situation clears up. As of early June, we are hopeful that a miracle will occur by November. Still, it would be a disservice to say we are optimistic about that prospect.
What we do know is that by 2021, we will be just as ready as our audiences are to get back into theater spaces and partake in collective storytelling. Tennessee Williams’ work will be that much more timely then, when we will have been craving connection for so long. His work is known for striking the chords of the human soul. We cannot wait to share his words with audiences as soon as it’s safe again!
Augustin J Correro and Nick Shackleford are the Founding Co-Artistic Directors of the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans. Correro holds an MFA in Theatre Pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently working on his book Tennessee Williams 101 with Pelican Publishing. Shackleford is a local sound designer and actor. Both men were featured in Gambit Weekly’s 40 Under 40 for 2019. For more about TWTC’s programs and mission, visit www.twtheatrenola.com
Please send press releases and notices of your upcoming shows to Brian Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.