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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Footlights

A few last-minute notes on the summer theater season.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 31, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Monty Python's "Spamalot" is at the Dell.
  • Monty Python's "Spamalot" is at the Dell.

Summer Intermission

Richmond’s pro theater season is wrapping up with no new shows opening until September, so Footlights will be going dark until after Labor Day. While this column will be on hiatus, there will still be plenty of action on local stages. Not only are several summer hits running into August, but also all sorts of entertaining and inventive one-offs will be attempting to lure patrons out of the heat.

Do you like your musicals without so much pesky plot between the songs? You might want to check out the “Where New Lives Cabaret” at the Firehouse Theatre tomorrow night, Aug. 1. A lineup of local luminaries will be singing contemporary musical theater hits. Those expecting “Anything Goes” be forewarned: This crowd skews more “Hamilton” than “1776.”

The Dogwood Dell Festival of the Arts opened “Spamalot” over the weekend. The hysterical stage version of the Monty Python movie continues tonight and next weekend. The best part? It’s free -- you needn’t even bring a shrubbery.

I’ve never read one of David L. Robbins’ books, but the local author has made all sorts of inroads in the local theater scene since his “Scorched Earth” had its world premiere at the Barksdale in 2012. This week, Robbins will direct staged readings “MASH” episodes -- the television show, not the movie -- in cooperation with 5th Wall Theatre Company and Richmond Triangle Players. The performances will benefit his Might Pen Project, an initiative that offers writing courses to veterans, helping them to develop their storytelling skills to better share their experiences with the world. Performances start Aug. 4 and all the details are available on the theater’s website.

Just when we’ve reached the point in the summer when little kids are sick of the pool and done with camps, the Ashland Theatre Festival offers the perfect distraction: a daylong theater extravaganza. Richmond’s neighbor to the north is the home of the Whistle Stop Theatre Company, an all-volunteer troupe that stages original variations on classic tales. Titles for the Aug. 13 festival include “Peter Pan: When Wendy Grew Up” and “Beauty and the Beast Tamer.” Details are on the Whistle Stop website.

The latest Broadway revival of the epic musical “Les Miserables” is closing soon. Local “Les Mis” lovers don’t have to steal any crusts of bread -- or piles of dough -- for transport to New York to get a Jean Valjean fix, however. Jewish Family Theatre will be presenting “Les Miserables -- School Edition” at the Firehouse Theatre starting Aug. 23 and closing Sept. 4, the same day the curtain closes on the Broadway revival.

A huge flurry of activity kicks off the 2016-’17 season with three shows opening Sept. 15. Footlights will be back a week in advance to preview the action.

Running: There’s one last performance of Quill’s “The Merchant of Venice” tonight at 7:30pm. The lights go down on TheatreLab’s “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” on Aug. 5 while Virginia Rep’s “Dreamgirls” stop dreaming Aug. 7. Stupidity is no excuse to miss “American Idiot” at the Firehouse: it’s been extended to Aug. 13. Virginia Rep has the long-runner in the bunch: “Brighton Beach Memoirs” shines until Aug. 28.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Virginia Opera Appoints New Executive/Artistic Coordinator

Anne-Carolyn Byrd will take over on Aug. 1

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 2:40 PM

Anne-Carolyn Bird starts Aug. 1.
  • Anne-Carolyn Bird starts Aug. 1.

The Virginia Opera announced the appointment of Anne-Carolyn Bird in a newly reorganized position of Executive/Artistic Coordinator. She starts the new job on Aug. 1.

Bird has experience singing on Virginia Opera stages, including recently in their production of "The Marriage of Figaro" (2013) -- here's a review in the Post of the work. She'll also be singing with the company this season at the Opera in the Park performances on August 27 at Dogwood Dell Amphitheatre in Richmond and on September 10 at Town Point Park in Norfolk.

"It cannot be understated that her opera performance expertise, starring in over 25 opera titles ranging from traditional fare ('The Marriage of Figaro') to modern ('Appomattox') and to Baroque ('Alcina') repertory, brings a wealth of understanding about the business of producing opera along with administrative background that coincides with Virginia Opera’s professional operation as a company," Russell Allen, president and CEO, tells Style. "Her understanding of the business of opera will be a boon to us as a company. Virginia Opera has not previously had this specific combination of experience in either the Artistic Coordinator position or the Executive Assistant position."

Here's more from the press release:

The new position of Executive/Artistic Coordinator was created with three primary areas of responsibility that include: to serve as artistic coordinator for the Artistic Department; to be a general assistant to the Boards of Virginia Opera; and, to serve as support for the President and CEO, Russell P. Allen, and the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Adam Turner. This position combines responsibilities from two other positions eliminated in departmental reorganization.

Russell Allen, President and CEO, commented, “Not only does Anne-Carolyn have the artistic experience and acumen to be a strong support in the Artistic Department, she has significant experience in administration and management. She will be the perfect addition to our Virginia Opera management team.” Ms. Bird’s strong background in opera will also enable her to successfully fulfill assignments on specific special projects with independent responsibilities.

In anticipation of beginning work with Virginia Opera, Ms. Bird notes: "I am thrilled to be taking such a big step toward a new career path, and even more so that it is happening with Virginia Opera. I loved my time working here as a performer, and I am looking forward to joining the "family" of the administrative team. I am hopeful that I can be a pivotal part of the continued growth of this vital and vibrant organization."

Ms. Bird moves to Norfolk from Richmond, VA accompanied by her husband, baritone Matthew Burns – a native of Richmond, and two children. Mr. Burns has performed in two Virginia Opera productions over the past five years (The Marriage of Figaro (2013) and Orphée (2012), and returns in this season’s upcoming The Barber of Seville as well as with Ms. Bird in the previously mentioned Opera in the Park productions.

Adam Turner, Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, noted, "We're excited to welcome Anne-Carolyn to the artistic team of Virginia Opera in this important new role. With her significant experience as a performing artist throughout the operatic industry, she offers Virginia Opera a wealth of knowledge and expertise, ensuring a commanding contribution to our organization. It is important to our artistic team to have her level of artistic expertise on a day-to-day basis."

Ms. Bird will immediately be thrust into preparations for the December Emerging Artist Auditions held annually by Virginia Opera, and into reporting assignments generated for both the Finance Committee and Executive Committee of the Board. She also will be immediately involved in chorus coordination and activity, as well as numerous other responsibilities related to her three areas of concentration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rainn Wilson and Patricia Arquette Filming Local Movie Involving Farrah Fawcett Wannabes

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Farrah Fawcett with big hair in a publicity shot.
  • Farrah Fawcett with big hair in a publicity shot.

The Governor announced today that Rainn Wilson, known to many for his role as Dwight on "The Office" (though we loved him as the weirdo Arthur on "Six Feet Under") will be joining Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood") for a comedy shooting in Central Virginia.

The film "Permanent" was written and will be directed by UVA-grad Colette Burson, co-creator/executive producer of the HBO television series “Hung."

It is set in the early 1980s and "centers around a small town where all the women want to be like Farrah Fawcett while 13-year-old Aurelie deals with a bad hair day in a coming-of-age comedy," according to the casting page. Filming will take place in Richmond between July 25 through Aug. 19.

According to a press release: "Burson based 'Permanent' on a memorable incident that occurred when she attended E.B. Stanley Middle School in Abingdon."

Here's more pertinent info from the Governor's press release:

The film is set to star Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) and Rainn Wilson (“The Office”). 2929 Productions is partnering with Park Pictures and Washington Square films to make the film. Mary Ann Marino, Haroula Rose, Sam Bisbee and Joshua Blum will produce. Executive producers are Todd Wagner, Ben Cosgrove, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Lance Acord and Danielle Renfrew Behrens.

Director Colette Burson said, “I feel like I can deliver a movie that looks way beyond my budget because all my Virginia locations are incredibly beautiful and authentic. And I'm not shooting a historical piece; mine is a comedy set in 1983! Because I was raised in Abingdon, went to UVA and still consider myself a Virginian, I contacted the film office staff, who encouraged me to do my movie where it is written, and I've been so glad they did. They have been an incredible help in every way, and in fact helped make my movie possible.”

“Colette Burson is a fantastically talented writer and director, and we are delighted that her smart and sweet comedy will be shot here in the Commonwealth,” said Andy Edmunds, Director of the Virginia Film Office. “Projects like ‘Permanent’ bring jobs to our experienced local crew and unparalleled opportunities for new workers in the industry, helping to grow the production infrastructure and, in turn, attract more productions. We’re honored to host this dynamic film.”

“Permanent” will begin filming in early August in Central Virginia. It is eligible to receive a Virginia film tax credit and grant. The exact amount is based on the number of Virginia workers hired, Virginia goods and services purchased, and deliverables, including Virginia tourism promotions. The economic impact of Virginia’s film industry in 2014 was $413.6 million, providing $59.4 million in state and local tax revenue for the Commonwealth, as well as 3,438 full-time jobs.

The Virginia Film Office is part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the state agency charged with marketing the Commonwealth of Virginia. Tourism is an instant revenue generator in Virginia. In 2015, visitors spent $23 billion, supporting nearly 222,600 jobs and contributing $1.6 billion in state and local taxes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday Media Round-Up

"Turn" gets a fourth season and giant rings to "flow" downtown.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2016 at 4:55 PM

"Turn" will be ending its run with season four on AMC.
  • "Turn" will be ending its run with season four on AMC.

Wig loyalists, rejoice: the Virginia-filmed AMC show, "Turn: Washington's Spies" will be returning for a fourth and final season. The folks at Deadline Hollywood think they know why:

While it has posted year-to-year declines in Seasons 2 and 3, the most recent third season of Turn averaged a respectable 1.2 million viewers per episode and nearly 600K adults 25-54. It is one of the top 10 most affluent scripted dramas for adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 and one of the top five in ad-supported cable. Additionally, Season 3 has been hailed as the series’ strongest creatively, and it ended on a high note, with a four-episode ratings growth streak in total viewers and season high marks for the finale. Also factoring into AMC’s decision to let the creative team craft a final chapter for the show is the fact that Turn is owned by the network, making extending the series a sound economic decision.

Over at the TD, it was revealed that Colorado artist Joshua Wiener, who the city is paying $200,000, has submitted sculpture plans for some huge, 17-foot tall rings that will "cut through the southern terminus of the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, which is under construction and will offer a pedestrian pathway from Brown's Island to Manchester," writes reporter Ned Oliver.

According to the article: "An artwork of new paths, uncharted territory and flow will honor this legacy of pathways," [Wiener] writes. "The artwork laces through the transition zone from civilization to nature, riding the edge of nature, dancing between the built and the wild. I was drawn to create a playful connection between nature and our civilized world."

A friend on Facebook noted that they look like the female birth control NuvaRing -- which raises the question whether they should come with attached latex sheaths that blow in the wind considering the hideously high STD rate in Richmond. As far as publicity goes, City of Condoms isn't bad.

No wait, it is bad. Forget that. Scrub.

On the awards front, VCU announced that Angela Flournoy has won the 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. Her book, “The Turner House,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, "tells the story of 13 adult siblings forced to reckon with their complex relationships and the deterioration of their east side Detroit neighborhood when their aging mother has to sell the family home."

She'll pick up her award Nov. 17 at VCU where she'll give a reading in the Cabell Library Lecture Hall, room 303 at 7 p.m. For more details, go here.

Also for those already planning their September, the National Endowment for the Humanities is planning a big party in Charlottesville (September 14-17) hosted together with the University of Virginia. The celebration will feature performances, film screenings and talks from authors like Salman Rushdie and Junot Diaz, and panels with Alice Waters, David Simon and James Wood, along with a host of other notable guests. You can learn more on their website.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Footlights

Illuminating the local stage scene.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 24, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Tyler Stevens as Eugene Jerome in Virginia Rep's "Brighton Beach Memoirs."
  • Tyler Stevens as Eugene Jerome in Virginia Rep's "Brighton Beach Memoirs."

Kid Stuff

Last week, while attending “Brighton Beach Memoirs” currently running out at Virginia Repertory Theatre’s Hanover Tavern location, my companion and I were speculating about Tyler Stevens’ age. The actor portrays 15-year old Eugene Jerome who narrates the story, acting as a surrogate for playwright Neil Simon and welcoming the audience into the lives of a loving but tense Jewish family living in New York at the tail end of the Great Depression.

It’s common for older actors to play younger characters but Stevens was so good at projecting the demeanor of a still naïve kid on the cusp of smart-aleck adolescence that I figured he couldn’t be older than a senior in high school. Boy was I wrong.

A college graduate, Stevens received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from VCU this past spring and laughs when I ask how he was able to portray a teenager so effectively. “It was a lot easier than maybe it should have been,” he says. “I guess it’s because I’m really a kid at heart.”

The actor also credits the production’s director, Steve Perigard, for keeping his performance on track. “Steve was good at pulling me back when I was verging too far into cynicism,” he says. “Some scenes tend to bring out the 22-year old in me and Steve kept telling me to keep it light.”

Stevens burst on to the local scene in a role that was the polar opposite of his current one, playing a soldier on trial for possible war crimes in TheatreLab’s “9 Circles” back in January. In contrast to that character, he says he really related to Eugene. “There’s a scene where he tries to sneak a cookie he’s stolen from the kitchen past his mom,” he says. “That’s exactly something I would do.”

Stevens’ real-life mom was responsible in part for sparking his interest in acting. Attending middle school in Newport News, he wanted to join the orchestra. “My mom didn’t trust me with a rental instrument,” he says. “So a teacher recommended an acting program as an alternative. I went in for my audition and totally bombed it; I forgot all of my lines. But they liked that I had chosen a monologue about bullying and took a chance on me. I fell in love with it.”

While looking forward to different acting challenges in the future, Stevens is enjoying playing a kid for now. “Eugene’s attitude has carried over into my regular life,” he says. “And with everything going on in the world right now, it’s sometimes really nice to see a lighter side of things.”

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” runs through Aug. 28.

By the Way: Both Virginia Rep’s “Dreamgirls” and Firehouse’s “American Idiot” replaced key cast members after the shows opened. If you loved either of them the first time, you can go again and enjoy a slightly different show with Courtney Jamison as Deena Jones in the former and Denver Crawford as Johnny in the latter.

Running: Most of the summer’s big hits are still on the boards. RTP’s “The Boy from Oz” closes July 30 and the curtain falls on Quill’s “The Merchant of Venice” on July 31. The close of “American Idiot” was pushed to Aug. 13, while “Dreamgirls” runs through Aug. 7.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Joe Walsh at Innsbrook After Hours, July 21

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 3:05 AM

After granting media passes, Joe Walsh's people changed their mind and wouldn't let local media near the photo pit, so this photo was taken from a distance away during his Innsbrook performance. - BRENT BALDWIN
  • Brent Baldwin
  • After granting media passes, Joe Walsh's people changed their mind and wouldn't let local media near the photo pit, so this photo was taken from a distance away during his Innsbrook performance.

Joe Walsh knows where his bread is buttered.

The classic rock guitarist took to the stage on a warm summer Thursday night at Innsbrook before a large, graying crowd looking for FM rock nostalgia. And Walsh, of the James Gang and Eagles fame, delivered the goods playing an energetic set filled with hits from each phase of his 40-year career.

Most impressively, he seemed still to enjoy playing the music, smiling and making goofy faces above his trademark slide guitar prowess, backed tonight by a large group featuring two drummers, veteran second guitarist (and producer) Waddy Wachtel, funky bassist Larry Young, two keyboardists and four smooth back-up singers to help carry the load.

Walsh opened with a raucous James Gang classic, “Walk Away,” quickly followed by the jammed-out, lifestyle statement, “Analog Man” the title track from his 2012 album. His band then delivered a flawless cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” a soulful summer song that felt inspired in today’s climate of racial and social unrest.

Constantly switching guitars between songs, Walsh broke out his acoustic for an ode to recently departed Eagle, Glenn Frey. The weepy ballad “Take it to the Limit” seemed to move the crowd – to where I have no idea - but his back-up singers shined. This was really the only ballad of the night, the rest was sheer power rock starting with “Turn to Stone,” oddly featuring images of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders obscured by flames on the large projection screen behind the band. I’m not sure what that meant, but Walsh said later he was “glad we weren’t in Cleveland” (he nixed a performance there last week after he learned it was part of the GOP convention).

At age 68, Walsh’s singing voice still has some power left -- quitting his regular boatload of cocaine years ago surely must've helped. He hit some high notes, struggled or avoided others, and his speaking voice had an odd affect, like a drunken gremlin chewing tobacco.

He mentioned that he had been river rafting on the James the day before, which drew loud cheers. "This next one is for your beautiful city,” he said before delivering a solid take on his 1979 soundtrack number “In the City” -- made famous by the gloriously cheese-ball gangland movie, “The Warriors.”

My only complaint came during the song, “Funk#49” which features one of the most recognizable, and singularly awesome guitar riffs in rock history. Weirdly, Walsh interrupted the James Gang classic midway to allow some sort of strange, electronic dance party onstage, where numerous people came out and danced to generic club music. The effect was jarring, like breaking into a Czech polka during the national anthem.

Had the dancers been dressed as chimps in space suits, I might've enjoyed that episode a little more. Instead we got members of the folksy opening band, JD and the Straight Shot, led by James Dolan, a billionaire who owns Madison Square Garden among other things. Earlier, their SNL-drummer said it was "great to be in West Virginia," then blamed his classic faux pas on "the acid kicking in."

True to form, Walsh closed things out with three of his most well-known hits: the sardonic “Life’s Been Good,” his biggest Eagles hit, “Life in the Fast Lane,” and finally an encore performance of the rousing FM staple, “Rocky Mountain Way” from 1973, featuring the requisite talk-box solo.

If you’re unfamiliar, this is where a plastic tube runs next to his microphone and into his mouth, allowing him to reroute his guitar signal and shape the frequency through vocalizing for a kind of wah-wah effect; he even added a little “Purple Haze” riff in the solo for good measure.

It kind of looked like a crazy old man who had pulled his catheter out and was sucking his own bodily fluid onstage – but it sounded a whole lot better that that, thankfully.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Video Round-Up: Avers Drops a New Video and Forest Hill Trio Honors Amy Winehouse

Plus Heartracer releases electro-pop song online.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 12:00 PM

A still from the video for Avers' "Vampire."
  • A still from the video for Avers' "Vampire."

Richmond bands have been busy this week.

Avers, a group that is about to release its sophomore effort, released a song via Noisey from that album. The poppy "Vampire" features a tribute to their sound guy, Patrick Ball, shown grooving all over RVA. We think you'll recognize plenty of local landmarks in the video.

Also, the Forest Hill Trio is paying tribute to Amy Winehouse, who died young five years ago, with a cover video of her classic, "Valerie." The musicians involved are from the RVA-based band, the Shack Band, and the video was shot and recorded at Red Amp Audio on Grace.

Hunter Pease from Forest Hill Trio answered a few e-mail questions about the Winehouse video and the group:

How did the idea come about?

Hunter Pease: We began playing together because our bigger project, The Shack Band, would get requests for Josh and I to do acoustic sets at some of our private events. When Corey Wells joined the band, he naturally fit right in to the acoustic aspect of our sound so we added him to Josh And I's set and created the trio. If you had told me a few months ago that we would be recording an Amy Winehouse song in the studio I wouldn't have believed you.

Why did you choose this Winehouse song??

I discovered "Valerie" when we decided to cover it in the shack band. I had never really listened to Amy but when I heard this song it really grabbed me. . I then watched the documentary, "Amy," and absolutely fell in love. Her lyrics, her phrasing, her melodic improvisation...it truly touched a part of my musical soul that desperately needed it at that particular time in my life. It revitalized me in a lot of ways. It felt like a musical awakening. I immediately drove to BK music store down the street and bought her albums. They honestly haven't left the stereo since then. It's all I've listened to.

What does she represent to to you?

She represents a style of music and freedom that really speaks to me as an artist. Her voice so unmistakably unique and powerful, I truly can't get enough of it. It's such a shame that everything happened the way it did...it's such a terrible loss for music but more importantly it's a loss for everyone who loved the person she was. I'm so grateful for discovering her music, it forever changed me as a musician.

Also released this week at a site called PureVolume, Richmond electro-pop band Heartracer wants you to hear its "Dreamgirl" song. Their "Eat Your Heart Out" EP will be released in Sept.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Eddie Izzard at the Carpenter Theatre

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Eddie Izzard in a publicity image from his "Force Majeure" tour.
  • Eddie Izzard in a publicity image from his "Force Majeure" tour.

There’s no doubt Eddie Izzard is a world-class comedian.

The guy can deliver jokes in multiple languages with ease. He's a smart, physical performer with a flare for madcap tangents, displaying an engaging and inquisitive personality onstage.

On Monday night in Richmond, the cross-dressing Brit burst onstage, tossing a cane aside, wearing a fine suit with candy apple red lipstick and matching fingernail polish. His big showbiz intro screams that he's on another level; a Wembley arena comic using a shock-and-awe affect pioneered, if I'm not mistaken, by Eddie Murphy on his mid-'80s concert film, "Raw."

But Izzard's epic Force Majeure tour, which has visited 28 countries over the past three years before landing at the packed Carpenter Theater, still could use some fine-tuning, strangely. At least if he wants its brand of cerebral, sometimes surreal humor to pack a more memorable punch at key moments.

That’s not to say he didn't deliver brilliant sketches. The Emmy-winning comedian and actor, who spent the night moving, dancing and breaking into song, has the manic comic energy of Robin Williams had he been a transgender member of Monty Python rather than an alien named Mork. Yet the steadily enjoyable, two-hour plus show began to feel like a loose accumulation of zany riffs that grew self-indulgent toward the end. By then, it was as if Izzard was delivering a clinic to an audience he assumed aloud was comprised of “some of the most intelligent people in the area.”

Rather this seemed like a show for long-time fans. The crowd remained firmly in his corner, cheering wildly throughout. If you expected more insightful connections from a comedic mind that skips nonchalantly through history, religion, mythology -- someone who has performed this show in French and German -- you might have left wondering if he needs fresh inspiration.

Things kicked off with a barnstorming first set, during which he cleverly and repeatedly broached the fourth wall, delivering bits on the Magna Carta and a hilarious physical sketch with Martin Luther nailing his famous treatises to the church door in high winds. A reoccurring bit with the French phrase “et voila!” (always good "when you throw up on the head of a child") delivered laughs, as did his re-enactment of Caesar's murder, wherein his last words are really less of a sigh and more "make a salad out of me!" Garnish with a goofy chicken-hawk impersonation of Roman general Marc Antony, sounding like a chicken. [Side note: you can tell Izzard is a bit of a sci-fi geek, with references to “Star Wars,” “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings” peppered throughout.]

Unfortunately, the second set was more superfluous, like an extended encore of weaker material. Rarely did Izzard delve into his personal background with the exception a rambling story about what happened after he was caught shoplifting make-up as a teenager and discovered his stepmother had a past in an elite British paramilitary group. The show might've felt more vital had he revealed more of himself, or at least included some tension.

He came closest to this, in Virginia, with his thoughts on religion, noting that he did not believe in God partly because the deity with the big bellowing voice didn't show up at major disasters. Some might argue heroism and acts of kindness fit the bill. But as Izzard noted, he believes in humans. Especially one named Steve, apparently.

A hilarious later bit occurred when Izzard took on the equestrian sport of dressage, using his physical gifts to imitate what appeared to be a drunken animal and rider, sidestepping awkwardly like a newborn giraffe. He then had them step through an invisible window to commit acts of petty larceny, just to increase the reality-television viability.

To simply recount Izzard’s punch lines doesn’t do them justice. His is a multi-cultural comedy of the imagination. Like that talented school kid who can impersonate anyone and carry on intricate conversations between a roomful of imaginary people. Izzard is the polished adult version, post-liberal arts education.

Here's a recent interview with him from London Real:

Surprisingly, there wasn't an extended bit on Brexit, nor did he take on American values and culture as much as I expected, stopping merely to drop in a “don’t vote for Trump” or two. Fascism can happen again was his point. Oh, how we forget things, even history. Missed opportunities seemed to abound.

His only reflection on Richmond was a few light jabs at the humidity (unlike Robin Williams, who delivered opening sharp barbs around Civil War history, managing to work in Monument Ave, Windsor Farms, and the Mosque). As my friend noted, maybe Izzard was simply less interested with being American-centric -- which in its own way, would be refreshing.

It remained a joy to watch his delivery; his bilingual skill used to lampoon the absurdity and playfulness of language (ever thought about the pronunciation of bough, cough, and dough? He has -- it doesn't make any sense). Izzard proved a master at bobbing and weaving, dropping numerous threads and picking them up later in random sketches.

I've only seen him live once, but it seemed like the "comedic-genius" tag was not unfounded. I can’t wait to see what he does next with a set of fresh, all-new material.

By this point, I bet neither can he.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Footlights

Working with "Mr. Burns" at TheatreLab

Posted By on Sun, Jul 17, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Drama-what?

Even theater professionals struggle with what exactly the word dramaturge means. I like the fairly simple definition provided by Liz Earnest, a local actress and educator who’s acting as dramaturge for TheatreLab’s production of “Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play,” which opened over the weekend in the troupe’s Basement space.

“My job is to provide context for the actors and for the audience,” Earnest says. “It can be factual background, understanding about social circumstances, or, for a play like this one, information on pop-culture references. It can be a lot of things but it comes down to context.”

“Mr. Burns” is set in a post-apocalyptic future (yep, another one) where survivors have latched onto one episode of the television show “The Simpsons” as an important mythology. The episode is called “Cape Feare,” and it’s a parody of the movie “Cape Fear,” originally produced in 1962 and then remade in 1991 with Robert DeNiro.

“Until [director] Deejay Gray and I dug into the script, we didn’t realize how layered all of the references were,” Earnest says. “I’m enjoying doing the research; it’s totally feeding my nerdy side.”

Though she grew up in Hanover County, Earnest is a relative newcomer to the Richmond pro theater scene. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, she started getting cast in such shows as “Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music” at Virginia Repertory Theatre. She gained a lot of attention last year in an over-the-top quiche-consuming scene in Richmond Triangle Players’ “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche.”

When not onstage, she works as an education coordinator for the School for the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, or SPARC, where her high-energy personality has earned her the moniker Purveyor of Positivity.

Earnest’s role as dramaturge forced her to do research many would relish. “I was not a big ‘Simpsons’ fan,” she says. “So not only did I have to watch the ‘Cape Feare’ episode but I had to jump a couple of seasons back so I could understand the back story. I really gained a greater appreciation for the show.”

A bit less fun was the research she had to do on accidents at nuclear power plants.

“I’ve had to read very specific details about Chernobyl and the Fukushima accident in Japan,” she says. “Even though the world of ‘Mr. Burns’ is theoretical, the circumstances are very fact-based. So I had to figure out: Given what we know about the disaster that’s happened, what can we imagine the result would be? How would people be affected?”

“Those kinds of disasters are the last thing I like to think about,” she says. “It gives me so much anxiety. But it’s anxiety I can manage. I reviewed all of the safeguards [that] facilities like Lake Anna have in place and they make it clear they have things pretty well figured out.”

“Mr. Burns” runs through Aug. 6.

Running: It’s a big week for endings: Firehouse Theatre’s “American Idiot” and Swift Creek Mill’s “The Hallelujah Girls” close July 23. Richmond Triangle’s “The Boy from Oz” was extended to July 30, while Quill’s “The Merchant of Venice” will keep his pound of flesh until July 31. For shows during beach month, turn to Virginia Rep: “Dreamgirls” may close Aug. 7 (or may be extended) and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” continues until Aug. 28.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mighty Joshua Raising The Hof Roof This Friday For African Charity

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 1:38 AM

Richmond's reggae ambassador, Mighty Joshua - MELISSA BRUGH
  • Melissa Brugh
  • Richmond's reggae ambassador, Mighty Joshua

Nothing says summer like live reggae on a rooftop.

And you know Richmond's resident reggae star, Mighty Joshua, will be bringing the fire with the Zion#5 this Friday evening, July 15, atop the Hofheimer building.

Fresh off winning awards for Favorite Reggae Artist, VA Reggae Ambassador, Virginia Favorite Reggae Band, and Favorite Song of the year, Joshua is performing the special show as a benefit for the Makindu Children's Program in Kenya, which helps kids orphaned due to the AIDS crisis.

We wrote about his annual 150-mile walk-a-thon in Africa back in 2013. Here's what he said then:

There was an orphanage I found out about through a Peace Corps volunteer named Michael Farley. These are kids who have been orphaned whose parents died from AIDS. Some kids walk for days to get there. It's run by locals, Kenyan great-grandmothers who educate and feed them — find families for them. In 2010, I raised money stateside to sponsor our walk out in the middle of nowhere — West Pokot — 155 miles in 10 days — bush conditions, mountainous, rocky. While we were there it rained the entire time. I saw a dry riverbed go from being dry to water coming through like a train.

DAVE BROOKS
  • Dave Brooks

Tickets for this Friday's event are $10 and the show also features veteran local DJ Mikemetic. There will be a silent auction with items from RVA businesses as well as delicious food from the great folks at Nile Ethiopian restaurant.

Always a friendly guy, Joshua told me yesterday that he's always excited to travel and has been preparing for the trip the entire year.

"I know a lot of people who have never left their city or county so its huge for me to be able to go to Africa. This year I am excited to walk in an area where the Samburu and Maasai people live, this is a real honor," he says. "Preparation has been difficult this year, but the sacrifices are worth it. This year I will have the opportunity to play music in Nairobi. This will be my first official show outside of the U.S. So far Aug. 6 is solid, hopefully we will be able to confirm two more dates before leaving, Aug. 4th and 5th. An amazing band called The Yellow Light Machine will be backing me."

Joshua also wanted to give props to a lot of people and local organizations who came together to help him reach his goal of $10,000 this year, including: Dinamo, Lickinghole Creek, Magnolia Renovations, Katra Gala, Belle Isle Spirits, The Glass Spot and artist Paul DiPasquale just to mention a few.

"It really has been a RVA community effort this go around," he adds.

While he's well known for his uplifting live performances, fans will be happy to know his group is currently recording his second album at Overcoast Music in RVA, which will hopefully be available Spring 2017.

You go, Mighty Joshua. Walk the earth, brother. We'll be there with you in sprit.

To get tickets, go here. For more information on the Makindu Children's Program, check out their site.

Rooftop Reggae at the Hof: A benefit for the Makindu Children's Program raises the Hofheimer building roof on Friday, July 15 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are $10. The address is 2818 W Broad St.

Here's Joshua performing at Style's Earth Day party this year.

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