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Showing posts from January, 2016

Standing up for justice in a small Southern town: IRT has a new production of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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A beloved book with a strong narrative voice at the center carries strong pluses and minuses over into a stage adaptation. On the one hand, there is the thrilling familiarity of the story and the characters in the flesh in front of us; on the other, there is a dilemma of what to do with that voice. It has to diminish somewhat to allow room to render recalled events in action. Jean Louse Finch (Lauren Briggeman) with the townsfolk she recalls as backdrop. First-person narration by a central character puts a novel on intimate footing with one reader  at a time. This is the case with Scout when we read "To Kill a Mockingbird." How to minimize its loss in the theater? The solution behind the Christopher Sergel adaptation that Indiana Repertory Theatre opened this weekend is to have the adult Scout onstage, facing us,  to capture much of the retrospective wisdom of the story the way Harper Lee wrote it. Lauren Briggeman presents Jean Louise Finch, to give her the name sh

Hanging meanings on the moon and other heavenly bodies: ISO's "Cosmos Music Festival" enters its second week

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From mythological beings flung into heavenly immortality as constellations, through astrology, astronomy, and philosophical speculation, looking into the night sky has long passed beyond simple admiration. The second week of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra' s "Cosmic Music Festival" trains its sights on musical interpretations of the larger meanings of stars, planets, comets, asteroids and just about anything else except what man has thrown up there over the last forty years. Friday night's opening concert confirmed there are works you just can't avoid in such a survey, in Jun Märkl brought out the full vitality of Holst and Hindemith. particular Paul Hindemith's "Die Harmonie der Welt" Symphony and that perpetual blockbuster, "The Planets" by Gustav Holst. Popular guest conductor Jun Märkl is on the podium tonight at the Hilbert Circle Theatre and Sunday afternoon at Avon High School. The Japanese-German maestro radiates aff

Indianapolis Opera lifts its voice to proclaim financial, artistic health in the 2016-17 season

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A work that its author yearned to see turned into an opera will reach that status posthumously next September when Indianapolis Opera premieres "Happy Birthday, Wanda June." Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegt wrote the libretto based on what started life as a 1971 stage play. After Richard Auldon Clark, director of instrumental activities at Butler University, befriended the fellow New Yorker late in the author's life, the two talked frequently of imbuing the story with music. Vonnegut died in 2007. Scheduled for production in the Schrott Center for the Arts on campus, the opera will be directed by Eric Einhorn, heading a production team including Cameron Anderson (set design), Shawn Kauffman (lighting), and Candida Nichols (costumes). "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" was motivated by Vonnegut's opposition to the Vietnam War. It is loosely based on "The Odyssey," the epic poem by Homer, with an American soldier of fortune as the Ulysses character.

'Once in Love With Bernie': A song in ambivalent tribute to the cult of Senator Sanders

On the day when the insurgent Vermont socialist senatormet with the President, I honor the occasion with a campaign song that is unlikely to be adopted by the Sanders campaign. No one should have to vote for the Loesser of two coevals (Susan Raccoli and me)! Posted by Jay Harvey on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Conflicted views search for clarity through 'Skylight,' a production of David Hare's play at Theatre on the Square

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Far into the first act of "Skylight," I started to anticipate the simultaneous appearance on the Theatre on the Square stage of Tom Sargeant, a bluff, opinionated London businessmen, and his alienated, directionless son, Edward. As the second act proceeded, I began to ache for it. Then it became clear I was trying to put David Hare's play into a box it didn't belong in — the sort of play where all the major conflicts characters bring to the fore are catapulted into the future by a confrontation. Isn't that where we often think we live — in an ever-vanishing present marked largely by the effort of lugging our past forward, both hoping for and dreading a clarifying jolt toward understanding? Bill Simmons as Tom Sargeant: The control freak starts to lose his touch in Act 2.  "Skylight" is not that kind of play. Father and son never appear together; instead their neediness pivots around the third character, Kyra Hollis, who left the Sargeant househo

Voyager is 2 billion miles away, but the ISO is right here playing some of the music on it

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The first time I heard "The Rite of Spring" in concert, Richard M. Nixon was there with me. I shouldn't assume it was also the President's first time, but that was likely the case. His musical tastes got only as highbrow as Richard Rodgers' "Victory at Sea." He had skipped the main event marking the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Arts — the premiere of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" — for what were credibly rumored to be political reasons. Attending the National Symphony Orchestra's christening of the center's concert hall with Mrs. Nixon in September 1971 was a shrewd compromise. I was nowhere near the presidential box, of course, as the crowded room witnessed Antal Dorati leading the NSO forces in Igor Stravinsky's shattering masterpiece. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 's  "Rite" at  Hilbert Circle Theatre Friday didn't put me in such The image that misled me as a teenage fan of "Rite&qu

'A Whiter Shade of Palin' brings back, in a speech-song style, a Sixties hit to address the winter of our discontent

Not quite as hard to understand as Procol Harum's original, "A Whiter Shade of Palin" comments in speech-song on the bonechillingest new political alliance. Posted by Jay Harvey on Thursday, January 21, 2016

'Values of New York': With apologies to the shade of Vernon Duke, here's an explanation in song of the point Ted Cruz tried to make the other night

In the recent GOP debate, Ted Cruz attempted to skewer Donald Trump for representing "New York values." This plaintive song attempts to explain that accusation from the standpoint of the "white-bread" Republican base. Posted by Jay Harvey on Monday, January 18, 2016

'The Mystery of Irma Vep' moves IRT's virtuosity into the foreground, where it rubs shoulders with sheer comic gusto

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There aren't many shows a producer would promote the way Indiana Repertory Theatre has "The Mystery of Irma Vep." On my Facebook feed, a sponsored item carries a picture of Marcus  Truschinski and Rob Johansen in one of several "Vep" guises and invites the public to savor their "utterly asinine performance." Talk about disarming criticism! It's tough to top that as a description of what took place on IRT's Upperstage opening night Friday. But of course an asinine performance brought off with such energy and commitment, and with every aspect of IRT's technical acumen synchronized with the actors, is just what Charles Ludlam's "penny dreadful" needs. Directed by James Still, Truschinski and Johansen bend every effort toward realizing the rich Gothic absurdity of Ludlam's imagination. Never have winds across the moors of northern England blown with such mind-clearing gusts of shrieking nonsense as they do around the Mand

Ai Wei-Wei won a shipment battle with Lego, and improved his brand in the marketable universe of artistic freedom, but at the price of this song!

The most famous Chinese artist, though he has undoubtedly suffered, has a hustle like everybody else. When Lego blocked his recent bulk order, he fought back, suggesting that a planned Legoland for Shanghai motivated their decision. Eventually the Danish toy maker relented. Through me, he attempts to sing of his triumph (in his cups). "No true art without a strong dose of banality." -- E.M. Cioran Posted by Jay Harvey on Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Tucker brothers and two simpatico colleagues issue an enchanting debut disc

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I don't know why "nine is the magic number," but the question takes second place behind the cogent musical answers offered on "Nine Is the Magic Number," a CD produced by brothers Nick Tucker, bass, and Joel Tucker, guitar. Nick Tucker on the job [photo: Mark Sheldon] Hearing the well-schooled Indianapolis natives in several concert settings with tenor saxophonist Sean Imboden and drummer Brian Yarde confirms the consistent evidence on this disc:  These 11 tracks, mostly originals, amount to a series of tight but roomy four-way conversations. A pop sensibility shapes the quartet's performance of Imogen Heap's "Closing In," but on the whole there's no deviation from a fresh approach to small-group jazz that also extends the mainstream. That extension takes the form of structures that avoid the routine. Tunes stated in unison by guitar and sax are the norm; solos are imaginatively distributed across each performance. There seems to

The last word on uptalk (not really, but it wouldn't be so bad if it were[?])

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To repost now my mockery of uptalk, which took the form of parodying a well-known Christmas carol, may seem perverse in mid-January. Tracy Kidder But my excuse is that I hadn't come across until today this marvelous smackdown of a curious vocal practice current mainly among young women. It's Tracy Kidder quoting with admiration a magazine piece by his longtime editor Richard Todd, who was writing about accompanying one of his daughters on a college tour. Consider the following a belated epigraph to that Yuletide post of mine. "We met our tour guide, and then she asked us her name. "Hi, my name is Melissa?'"    --  from "Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction" by Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd (Random House, 2013)

"Act Ruthlessly": A narcoballad focusing on the recapture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who thinks (like millions of dreamers before him) he oughta be in the movies

"Act Ruthlessly: An El Chapo Narcoballad," in observance of the (for now) thwarted biopic ambitions of Joaquin Guzman, asking you to imagine him as a gringo vocally attempting to channel Buck Owens and Ringo Starr and keep hand claps consistently on 2 and 4. Posted by Jay Harvey on Monday, January 11, 2016

Dance Kaleidoscope ushers in the New Year with "Classic Greats," a three-part program inspired by musical classics

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Dance Kaleidoscope 's publicity for the program "Classic Greats" includes a subtitle that will surely remind patrons of one of the perpetual challenges of New Year's resolutions: "A Perfect Meal of Dance." If the appetite for good contemporary dance can suppress appetites that were perhaps overindulged during the holiday season, that's all to the good. The proof is in the pudding, of course: "Classical Greats"  at Indiana Repertory Theatre Friday night was a satisfying three-course repast that ought to keep more basic thirsts and hungers in the background for a while. The master chef was DK's resourceful, indefatigable artistic director, David Hochoy. The entree was his "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy," a  2012 piece set to Tchaikovsky's "fantasy-overture" after Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. Hochoy here finds a way to make a true ensemble work out of a drama that, despite other vivid characters and exciting crow

'Butler' at the Phoenix Theatre: Civil War drama delves into our national identity, with coded secrets and words that clarify or obscure

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The first scene in the Phoenix Theatre 's "Butler" will stun anyone inclined to think a play based on an incident in the Civil War ought to have the pace, flow, and sheer ordinariness of realism. As Major General Benjamin Butler upbraids his adjutant, Lieutenant Kelly, over nice distinctions between a few pairs of words, you might feel you are being asked to manipulate a Stoppardesque Rubik's Cube. But more than verbal distinctions are involved. Richard Strand's two-act drama is steeped in the American burden of slavery and race in its most consequential era. The first scene's word play is fundamentally all serious, a pedantic way Butler has of covering his insecurity as a Gen. Butler deals with escaped slave Shepard Mallory as his adjutant stands guard. lawyer recently thrust out of civilian life into command of a Union fort in Virginia early in the conflict. As seen on opening night Thursday, his playfulness comes out of hiding from time to time, b

Not "The Interview": A song of concern about the possibility that North Korea is now a nuclear power

Trying to calm my nervousness about the prospect of North Korea's joining the nuclear club, I felt a song coming on. (Thanks to @Susan Raccoli for assisting at the piano.) Posted by Jay Harvey on Thursday, January 7, 2016

Presidential politics and the power of "dialectical Trumpism": An analysis of a populist billionaire's Hegel-Marx-and-Engels-influenced campaign

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Despite a well-received parody of Donald Trump's rhetorical style posted here last month, I am revoking a personal pledge to allow that to be my unique entry into the bulge and bilge of commentary on him. Trump fatigue is unlikely to be worsened much by a return to the battlefield from my small redoubt of the blogosphere. So I'm not apologizing, but I ought to explain: What prompted this post was my nagging wonder about Trump's durability as a billionaire populist. I'm not referring to his appeal  in light of the way he keeps managing to de-gaffe the gaffe on the campaign trail, but to his relationship with adoring audiences he simultaneously flatters and positions himself as superior to. The billionaire populist stirs the pot from an openly declared position of superiority. What other current candidate acknowledges the applause with copious thanks before he starts speaking, and also thanks the crowd for their applause in mid-speech? Who else interrupts his re

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre looks into the New Year with marital double vision

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Cabbie-bigamist attempts to digest news of his troubling heroics. "Run for Your Wife" pushes to the outer limit the peculiar ability of farce to show people using extraordinary cleverness to extricate themselves from dumb situations of their own making. Taxi driver John Smith has inexplicably allowed himself to be talked into marrying an attractive fare, apparently concluding that keeping the new marriage hidden from the wife he already has can be managed easily. His heroism interrupting a mugging late one night upsets his schedule of keeping both wives satisfied and unsuspicious. From that brief touch with fame, thanks to the news media (in 1985 London, as now everywhere, drawn to the sensation of the moment), all hell breaks loose. Beef & Boards' production of Ray Cooney's play, which opened Saturday night at the dinner theater, never stints on extracting the most from a three-ring circus of misunderstandings and short-lived cover-ups. On a brightly li