ISF stuns audiences with scintillating show
by Deanna Darr
On rare, magical occasions in theater, an audience will be so captivated, invested and affected by what’s happening on stage that they will be stunned into a charged silence. It happened twice during Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of Cabaret. In fact, it routinely happens twice each performance.
It is testament to the power of a production that is at once engrossing, disturbing and moving–not words often used when describing a musical. But just because there is song and dance doesn’t mean a musical can’t carry an emotional and moral wallop. Those who are only familiar with the movie version of Cabaret may be a bit shocked to discover the more controversial themes that fill the stage production.
Set in Berlin, Germany, in the early 1930s as the Nazi party was rising to power, the play explores themes of sexuality, hatred, power and life on the fringe. But overall, Cabaret deals with truths, uncomfortable truths, truths that we hide from others and even ourselves and unpleasant truths that we sometimes try to ignore.
With openly gay and bisexual characters, prostitution, abortion, drugs, alcohol and Nazis, this is a very grown-up musical, but one that entertains as much as it forces audiences to think on a more profound level.
Jodi Dominick stars as Sally Bowles, the star of the Kit Kat Klub (no, not the Meridian institution) for whom life is one big party and consequences are not to be bothered with. Eduardo Placer plays the Master of Ceremonies, an effeminate force of nature whose high-energy approach leads the audience through silly highs before turning dark on a dime. Both Dominick and Placer have spent several seasons with ISF, but these roles are standout performances for both. Dominick’s powerful voice drives the production, while Placer commands the stage and holds the audience in the palm of his well-manicured hand.
Neil Brookshire provides needed grounding as Clifford Bradshaw, a bi-curious American who falls in love with Sally but who can’t ignore the shadows that the Nazis are beginning to cast across society.
Wonderful supporting performances are turned in by ISF newcomer John Woodson and veteran Laura Perrotta, as well as Sara M. Bruner, who is a little bit scary in this production. Musical director Matthew Webb and costume designer Charlotte Yetman create a rich tapestry for the ears and eyes.
Last season, ISF pushed audiences out of their comfort zones with the quirky Bat Boy: The Musical, and this season the company is making sure crowds don’t get too cozy again with a production that is well worth experiencing. Click to read at Boise Weekly.
Posted: Saturday, July 16, 2011 12:30 am
By DAN LEA firstname.lastname@example.org © 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune
BOISE – This is not your mother’s “Cabaret.” For one thing there’s no Liza Minnelli. This is a grittier, more salacious and real-life, riveting version of the book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and inspired by the stories of novelist Christopher Isherwood. It depicts a German society rift with cultural and sexual experimentation on the eve of the rise to power of the Nazi party.
It takes generous swipes at anti-Semitism, censorship (book burning) and the emerging Third Reich.
But, within the bigger picture lies the tragic struggle of human beings caught in the middle.
“Cabaret” boasts unforgettable Broadway songs that include “Don’t Tell Mamma”, “Money,” “Mein Herr,” “Willkommen,” and the title tune sung emotionally by the show’s co-star British cabaret singer Sally Bowles, played perfectly by the troupe’s Jodi Dominick.
Eduardo Placer thrills in his role as Victor, the Master-of-Ceremonies. Placer narrates the audience through the cloudy eyes of American writer Clifford Bradshaw, played solidly by Neil Brookshire.
“Perception can be a funny thing,” Director Victoria Bussert said of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s interpretation of “Cabaret.”
“We can literally decide what we actually want to see – and what we would prefer to ignore.” Click to read full article.
BY DANA OLAND – email@example.com
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
When the lights came down on Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Cabaret” Saturday, the audience sat in stunned silence, as if trying to recover its breath after a punch to the stomach. Then the lights went up, and it erupted into applause as the cast returned for their well-deserved bows.
Director Victoria Bussert’s production of Sam Mendes’ gritty adaptation of “Cabaret” took the audience on an emotional ride from a giddy opening to a devastating end.
That’s the power of musical theater. It can distill complex themes — from anti-Semitism to economic devastation — dress them up in lacy costumes and communicate the social underpinnings that led to World War II, all through the song and dance of a talented cast.
Most people know “Cabaret” from Bob Fosse’s glossy film that starred Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in career-defining roles as Sally Bowles and the Master of Ceremonies. The 1998 revival offers a seamier, more sinister take on the Kander and Ebb musical. This show has mature themes and is appropriate for kids 14 and older.
The tone is underscored by Jeff Herrmann’s perfectly dingy set that speaks to the seediness of the cabaret and deterioration of Fraulein Schneider’s boardinghouse. He puts three doors at the back that are ironically reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 1930s. Charlotte Yetman’s costumes are equally multidimensional. Musical director Matthew Webb keeps the band lively.
Though Bussert and choreographer Gregory Daniels give a nod to Fosse, they stay true to Mendes’ stripped-down, edgy take. The show has a slick center but is appropriately rough around the edges.
Strong performances by Jodi Dominick as Sally Bowles and Eduardo Placer as the Master of Ceremonies propel the production. They’re aided by a tight supporting cast — Neil Brookshire ( Cliff Bradshaw), Laura Perrotta (Fraulein Schneider), John Woodson (Herr Schultz), Jim Lichtsheidl (Ernst Ludwig) and Sara M. Bruner (Fraulein Kost), who learned to play the accordion for the role — and the sassy, sexy chorus girls and boys.
“Cabaret” is set in the Weimar Republic Germany of 1933, where a decadent, creative culture flourished, and many turned a blind eye to the Nazis’ rise to power.
We’re dropped into the Kit Kat Klub, which becomes the central thread that ties the show together.
Cliff, an American writer eager to explore his bisexuality, and Sally, an English cabaret singer trying to sleep her way to the top, meet. They begin as roommates-with-benefits and end as doomed lovers.
The cabaret numbers offer biting commentary on the reality scenes.
Placer owns the show. He attacks the Master of Ceremonies role with aggressive sexuality and wit and is close to brilliant in his ad libs with the audience.
Like Placer, Dominick is a triple threat who sings, dances and creates a complete character. When it comes to the finale number “Cabaret,” she delivers it like a curse rather than an anthem.
Pale, fevered, barely able to stand, she spits out the words. The production allows her to be true to the character rather than offer an expected Minnelli-esque slickness.
As good as the individual performers are, the show is greater than its parts. This “Cabaret” is a grown-up musical for the company, meaning that as a company, ISF is coming into its own abilities to produce visceral, engaging and tightly wound musical theater.
Dana Oland: 377-6442
By Dana Oland – firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Some actors have “it;” some don’t. “It” is that magical chemical bond one can create with an audience and fellow actors. It’s also the ability to get the laugh.
The moment Scooter Moose de Chumber walks onstage in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” his “it” factor kicks in. The audience sighs with delight and watches with giddy excitement. When Chumber turns it on, one well-timed gaze, and they’re in his paws.
This is no average dog. His dead-on deadpan makes his acting partner — the festival’s broad-ranging and gregarious David Anthony Smith — into a straight man.
That’s no mean feat.
In “Two Gents,” the 3-year-old French bulldog plays Crab, one of the only dogs of name in a Shakespearean play, and the only actual canine character The Bard wrote. Crab is companion to Launce, played by Smith, who is the manservant to Proteus— one of the two gents.
“He’s a ham,” Smith says. “He’s a show dog, and he loves getting the attention and reward of the treat. People love him. On preview night, when I said ‘Yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear,’ he (Chumber) slowly turned and looked at the audience. His timing is impeccable.”
That’s in Launce’s first monologue, which recounts his hysterical farewell to his family because he must follow Proteus to Milan. In his second big moment, Chumber finished with best trick: a high-five.
The great W.C. Fields once said, “Never act with animals or small children.”
“I disagree,” Smith says. “With the right animal, it’s a joy. Chumber brings so much to the role. I love working with him. He’s my bud!” Smith finds Chumber’s happy spot and gives it a scratch, as the dog wags in ecstasy.
Shakespeare wrote Launce for Will Kempe, one of the original members of Shakespeare’s acting company, the Chamberlain’s Men.
Kempe had a dog that knew a lot of bits.
In “Shakespeare in Love,” Geoffrey Rush’s character Philip Henslowe says, “You see — comedy, Will. Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want.”
Smith really is a dog person. He works (and plays) with Chumber.
“I stay with him all the time backstage. It would be a whole different thing if I just got him for our scenes,” Smith says. “I take him out; I play with him; we do our treats backstage; we rehearse. Then, me walking out with him onstage becomes an extension of our bond.”
Since Smith learned of Chumber’s love of lamb, he cooks up a batch of treats for every show. “He’s really all about the treats,” he says.
When ISF produced “Two Gents” in 2004, Crab was played by a dog statue — which now is known as Chumber’s stand-in. This time, assistant director Sara M. Bruner insisted on casting a real dog. It can be tricky to have a dog onstage, especially outdoors, where the audience and lights are just the tip of the distractions. There’s food, birds — including a peacock — cats that live under the stage and the occasional skunk.
Bruner held dog auditions in Boise and Cleveland, home of ISF’s sister company, the Great Lakes Theater Festival.
“I knew it would be a huge missed opportunity if we didn’t, especially in Boise. It’s kind of a dog city,” Bruner says.
In Cleveland, a 150-pound Newfoundland named Mojo played Crab. That was a very different portrayal.
“If he didn’t want to go on cue, it was difficult,” Smith says. “It’s a huge advantage that I can carry Chumber.”
Scooter Moose de Chumber belongs to Erin Gorringe, a vet-tech at Habitat Veterinary Health Center in Bown Crossing. She found him through a French bulldog rescue network. Chumber was supposed to be a breeding stud but had some undesirable traits, such as possession aggression.
“He just wasn’t acclimated to people. So, he had to learn that people aren’t just a source of food, but of affection, too,” she says. “We learned that, and we worked on his ability to share things, and he’s just a different dog.”
Chumber is now a neutered stud. He’s affectionate, playful and full of personality.
“He’s our baby, big time,” she says.
When Gorringe learned about the dog audition on the ISF Facebook page, she had a hunch that Chumber would be just right.
“He kind of looks like a gargoyle,” she wrote in an email to Bruner. The moment Gorringe and Chumber showed up at the site, Bruner knew she’d found her Boise Crab.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Not much, according to Gorringe. His A.K.C. name is Rocky’s Bullwinkle, and he was dubbed Moose when she got him.
“Then all these nicknames came up: Scooter, Schoochie, Schoochie McNugget, Chumby, Bumper, Chuch, Chechie … Dan, Dan-Dan — not sure where that came from,” she says. “He doesn’t really respond to any of them. You could call him Pot Pie. It’s all the same to him.”
Chumber landed in a good situation all the way around. Gorringe and her boyfriend, Sam Tibbs, give him tons of attention, which is something this breed requires — he often gets to go to work with Gorringe. She figured out some of his quirks and allergies that were making him miserable.
Now, he’s a happy dog, she says. Being in the play has given him a new purpose, Gorringe says.
“I think he really loves it. He likes the attention and that he has a purpose to come here. He knows the routine: going out onstage and doing his role. He might not do it the same every time. but he knows that’s what’s going on.”
Dana Oland: 377-6442
This is the sixth year in a row that the Idaho Shakespeare Festival has been your top performing arts group, and it’s no wonder. This top-notch theater company puts on some of the greatest plays ever written — and does so in a serene, park-like setting against the backdrop of the Boise Foothills.
The heart of this theater comes from the fact that it grew out of this community. The company rehearsed the first production in a cow pasture and performed on the steps of a Downtown restaurant in the summer of 1977. Since then, it’s had many homes in Boise, settling in its world-class amphitheater in 1998.
The theater has grown to offer one of the best entertainment experiences in the state. You bring your own picnic and wine, or buy it from Lisa Peterson’s Cafe Shakespeare, dine on the lawn or in chairs, and enjoy a stellar night of theater by some of the country’s leading directors and regional actors.
Boise Weekly June 22, 2011
by George Prentice
Sara Bruner is one of the most recognized faces in Boise, yet few people really know her. They certainly know her work. For 15 years, Bruner has transformed into Ariel, Rosalind and dozens of the classical theater’s greatest ingenues. Later this summer, Bruner graduates to one of the most sought-after roles in the Shakespeare canon: Katherine in Taming of the Shrew.
Is it fair to say that playing Katherine is a significant change for your career?
It’s a huge deal for me, mostly because I’m consciously and intentionally graduating from all of Shakespeare’s ingenues and moving on to the leading ladies. I’ve never played anyone like this before. We’ll see how it goes.
Many actresses aspire to a lot of the parts that you have already played. Have you ever had a checklist of roles?
I never had that list. When I was growing up in Burley, I couldn’t even name three women in Shakespeare.
Yet you started with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival when you were 18.
It was very different for me in those days. But it’s that way for a lot of young actors. Honestly, when you’re young, you can get into some bad habits, like partying a bit too much.
Did that ever catch up with you?
OK, now remember, I was very young at the time. I threw up once on stage. Honestly, I was hungover. We were on tour and I was playing Juliet and I just wasn’t feeling well, so I drank a little to much red All Sport [energy drink]. I was downstage center and one of the other actors was delivering a speech about poison, and I was hoping that he would just talk faster. Finally it just happened, and I threw up. This is so gross. I threw up in my hands, and of course, it was red All Sport. I had to run off stage and run back to finish the play. That was the worst, totally self-inflicted, ridiculous, embarrassing, awful moment.
What might you say to those people who are a bit surprised that you’re still in Boise and not on the New York stage?
It’s a question that frustrates me. I’ve never been the type of actor who gravitated toward New York. Even my parents sometimes say things like, “Maybe you’ll go to Broadway.” There’s something very naive about that. Most people don’t realize that there’s an entire subculture of actors who are functioning in regional theater. They don’t realize that many of the actors in New York come to places like Boise to work.
In addition to your acting, you hold the title of artistic associate. What does that mean?
I assist Charlie Fee [producing artistic director] on most things. I’m casting a lot of the time. It’s mostly artistic odds and ends.
When can we expect you to direct one of ISF’s main productions?
It will happen.
Are you talking about it now?
The truth is, I’ve been declaring for a while that I want to be a director. But it’s a more difficult transition than I had expected.
What are the chances of you directing a production on the main stage in the next two years?
But don’t you have to say the words, “I’m ready?”
I absolutely do, and I absolutely have not said them yet.
When you see a younger version of yourself in a girl who aspires to be an actress, what might you tell her?
You always have these people coming at you with what they think is the answer to success. I always liken it to religion–everyone seems to think they know the way to God. The trick for an actor is to not believe in one particular way but to carry around your own bag of beliefs. Acting is so easily ego-driven–to be a star, to be recognized in the community–but it’s important to me to demystify that.
But you have had more than a taste of that kind of success.
In all sorts of ways. I just don’t think it’s healthy to ride that kind of energy.
Can you see yourself doing this for the rest of your days?
I think I’ll always be in the theater, but I think I’ll always be redefining where I fit in.
Is it a love that is constant for you or does it change?
It’s love/hate definitely. Just like a relationship.
Where are you currently?
Love, definitely. It’s a summer of love [strong laughter]. Theater and I are doing quite well now.
by Deanna Darr
Boise Weekly June 22, 2011
Matters of the heart are never simple, but when your best friend goes after your girlfriend and in the process gets you banished from your city, that will put a strain on a friendship.
Such is the situation that arises in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the opening production of the new season at Idaho Shakespeare Festival. The comedy is full of the Bard’s favorite devices: forbidden love, rejected lovers, stern parents, comedic servants and a touch of cross-dressing. But the production offers a fresh interpretation of the classic, creating a sort of Bohemian-coffeehouse take on the tale.
From the costuming by Star Moxley that combines modern and traditional pieces to the use of pop music performed by a live band, the production manages to feel both extraordinarily contemporary and timelessly classic. The singing voices of Sara Bruner and Jodi Dominick help transform the play into a musical of sorts, each interlude serving both as a transition and a guidepost.
Neil Brookshire and Dakotah Brown play the lead roles of Valentine and Proteus respectively, two best friends who are separated when Valentine goes off to see the world while Proteus stays put in order to win the heart of his beloved Julia (Lee Stark). But when Proteus is forced to follow Valentine, things get messy.
Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia (Nika Ericson), whose father intends to marry her off to a man she hates. The would-be lovers’ plot to run away is thwarted after the newly arrived Proteus falls in love with Silvia and betrays Valentine. In the meantime, Julia sets her sights on Proteus and dresses like a young male page so that she can follow him.
ISF veterans David Anthony Smith and M.A. Taylor provide the bulk of the play’s comic relief. Smith in particular faces a daunting duty: acting opposite an animal. The animal in question is a French bulldog (Scooter Moose de Chumber) who may well be the most laid-back pup to ever grace a stage. Including an adorable animal is a guarantee that any human actor will be upstaged, yet Smith makes the most of it, creating some of the most memorable moments of the production.
The set design is stunning, yet simple and functional. Clean lines of a scaffolding tower connected by two movable staircases and a rotating backdrop of bright orange, red and blue work perfectly to create the foundation of the production, while the actors’ skills lead the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.
The overall effect is a production that audiences will be sure to embrace, as well as serve as an amuse bouche for the rest of the season.
Brevity may be the soul of wit, and a trio of festival players finds a wealth of humor in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”
BY DANA OLAND – email@example.com © 2011 Idaho Statesman
When I heard the Idaho Shakespeare Festival would produce “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” I gave a little groan. I’ve seen it.
Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee, with his penchant for bringing back festival favorites, programmed the work in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2005. Now he’s brought it back, again, for the festival’s 35th anniversary season.
So, then, why am I laughing? The source of my mirth is this: Tom Willmorth, Joe Conley Golden and M.A. Taylor — three of the funniest guys you’ll see work on this or any other stage. In their hands, the show works.
The show opened on a blustery Saturday night, which made it a little hard to hear Willmorth. The show ended with a little rain, which only chased a few people from their seats.
With as many times as ISF has produce this show, it is a surprise that this is the first time these three have performed it together.
Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield wrote this clever deconstruction of Shakespeare’s canon in 1987 for their Reduced Shakespeare Company, which performed parodies of the Bard’s plays. It takes you through many of his best works, lingering on the ones that make for the best comedy, which just happen to be the tragedies. The comedies are treated to an uber-mashup and condensed into one long-winded play.
So you have “Titus Andronicus” as a cooking show, “King Lear” as a cameo in a football-game take on Shakespeare’s histories, and a “Hamlet” that goes both forwards and backwards. There’s enough room in the formula for the three to riff and improvise, so each night is slightly different.
Some of the bits are dated (the character formerly known as Prince, etc.). View those as groaners, like a familiar knock-knock joke or obvious pun. But Willmorth, Golden and Taylor infuse a mix of relevant pop and local culture that freshen things up.
You’ll find more than a few Sarah Palin jokes, a few Tom Luna jabs (Willmorth and Golden are both teachers), some rap, loads of physical comedy and even a few Idaho Shakespeare Festival references to past productions.
And just to remind you that these guys also are well-heeled actors, when Taylor dives into Hamlet’s famous “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy, he more than does it justice.
One of the fun aspects of “Complete Works” is that you’ll actually learn something about Shakespeare and his plays. You don’t need to have seen or read them to get the jokes. Although if you know the plays, the jokes are funnier.
The trio also gets the audience involved in hysterical way — so be prepared to play along — and beware if you sit in the first few rows.
Gage William’s sweet little Globe Theatre-esque set works as a glorified changing room, as the guys dash in and out for costume and wig changes.
They’re helped by a trio of dressers who whip Charlotte Yetman’s Velcro-heavy costumes on and off.
Dana Oland: 377-6442
The Treasure Valley summertime institution celebrates its 35th anniversary with plenty of Sir William’s works
Friday, June 3, 2011 11:35 am
By Dan Lea firstname.lastname@example.org Idaho Press-Tribune
BOISE ― More Shakespeare … more often. That’s what director Charlie Fee promises audiences who come to bask in the early evening summertime twilight at the 35th annual Idaho Shakespeare Festival that opens this weekend.
“We have a really great, broad mix of plans and experiences for audiences this summer,” Fee said in an interview with 3G. “We’ve got more Shakespeare than we’ve done in a single season in some time with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and of course, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
What that means for audiences is that they will see every play in the Shakespeare canon this summer.
Fee gleefully admits that might be a bit of a “send-off” but quickly added that performing so much of Sir William’s work is a blast for the company.
“I think it’s going to be a great year for us,” Fee said. “It’s our 35th anniversary and we were kind of hoping to pull out all the stops and I think we’ve got a fantastic company and a great line-up for it.”
“‘The Complete Works (Abridged)’ is kind of a signature piece for us,” Fee said. “We’ve done it before and it’s super fun.”
What makes this year’s production of “The Complete Works” extra special, according to Fee, is that the Fool Squad duo of Joe Golden and Tom Willmorth return to the stage to star in the production after last year’s hiatus. The duo wrote and starred in a Boise Contemporary Theater production last summer and only appeared in their “Green Show” prior to Shakespeare performances.
“‘Two Gents’ is one of the great early comedies of Shakespeare and a piece we’ve created a very interesting production that features live music being performed and sung by our company,” Fee said. He said the live music sets the mood and rhythm for the play.
“It’s a different kind of experience and a big experiment for us,” Fee said.
Cast blends veterans and exciting newcomers
This year’s Shakespeare Company boasts loads of familiar faces and some bright new talent. Veterans Sara Bruner, Jodi Dominick, and David Anthony Smith join Golden and Willmorth among the regulars that audiences have come to love.
“The two young lovers in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ are new to us but are doing a spectacular job,” Fee said. “We’ve got lots of new, talented performers we are excited for audiences to see.”
‘The Two Gentlemen’ debuts
Fee said that “Two Gents” has been the poor stepsister of Shakespeare plays for too long.
“It is a play that has been largely kind of dismissed by Shakespeare scholars because it’s an early comedy, but I think they are really making a mistake by doing that. It’s a great play,” Fee said.
“It’s a play where we see the development of all of these characters Shakespeare is going to continue to work on from later plays. It is the beginning in the line of great characters from Julia who dresses as a boy in order to negotiate her way through the world to the clowns we see in later productions.”
“Two Gents” is extremely accessible to audiences, Fee said.
“It’s four kids who are really trying to figure out what it means to be friends, what it means to fall in love and how to negotiate the difference between friendship and passion, and how to love someone,” Fee said. “Of course they do a terrible job of it,” he laughed.
In the end, “Two Gents” is about forgiveness and understanding.
“It’s not a physical comedy … much more like a romantic comedy and quite dramatic in many ways,” Fee added. “And the live music being played live gives it a very, very beautiful rhythm. I think audiences will love it and it is a contemporary setting of the play.”