Susan K Asher, Atlanta PR and Art Reviews
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Alliance Theatre’s ‘Hand to God’ at Dad’s Garage

2017 October 31

Prudes beware: “Hand to God” is no genteel puppet show. Think of the raunchiest scenes from “South Park,” “Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q,” multiply by two, add some crude language, sex with a minor, Penthouse puppetry and comedic, maniacal characters, and you’ve got yourself a show that received five Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Play.

This is a fast-moving show about a schizophrenic boy, Jason (Ben Thorpe), his seedy highly sexed mother, Margery (Wendy Melkonian) a church pastor, Greg (Allan Edwards) and the church’s puppet-making class. There are scenes, such as the one in which the pastor fights an unruly puppet by spraying holy water on him, that are laugh-out-loud funny, and there are sex scenes that will turn many cheeks pink.

I think back in my twenties or thirties, I would have found this irreverent comedy more amusing. Still, the stellar performance by Thorpe, who plays both a shy, introverted teenager and a puppet besmirched by the devil, alone makes this show worth seeing.

Written by Robert Askins, directed by Marc Masterson, the Alliance Theatre’s production of “Hand to God” runs through Nov. 12 at Dad’s Garage.


Alexandra Ficken as Jessica
Patrick Wade as Timothy

‘The Color Purple’ at The Fox, Oct. 24-29

2017 October 11
by Susan Asher

“The Color Purple,” the two-time Tony Award-winner, including Best Revival of a Musical, will be returning to Atlanta this month at The Fox. The original Broadway production, which ran from 2005 through 2008, earned 11 Tony Award nominations. The Broadway revival opened in late 2015 and ran through early 2017, winning two 2016 Tony Awards—including Best Revival of a Musical. The original Broadway-bound musical began its first run in 2004 in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre.

Based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, the show follows the journey of Celie, an African-American woman in the American South from the early to mid-20th century. Book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell, and Allee Willis, “The Color Purple” runs Oct. 24-29 at the Fox Theatre.

‘The Girl Who Needed Watching’
at The Georgia Ballet

2017 October 8

“The Girl Who Needed Watching” is an alternate title for the classical ballet “La Fille Mal Gardee,” which translates to “the poorly guarded girl.” Publicized as one of the most important classical ballets by critics and dance professionals around the world, the comedic storyline focuses on a young girl, Lise (Kelsey Stanhope), who falls in love with a local farm boy, Colas (Josiah Savage), but her mother has arranged an engagement to a rich but clumsy and slow-witted-son of a vineyard farmer. The playful story about a mother keeping an eye on her young love-struck daughter mixes cartoon-like playfulness with romance.

The chickens, who peck and dance, are played by dancers who appear to be in their teens. To me, they are the most amusing part of the show. The mother, Widow Simone (played by a man, Matt Rice), is also amusing and is very over-exaggerated with her facial expressions and movements, reminding me of a cartoon character from the 1960s. But it works and doesn’t seem overdone.

Ballet is supposed to look effortless and smooth, and that is often not attained in this production. If you’re looking for the quality of dancers you’d find with the Atlanta Ballet, you won’t find it here. However, you will find a show that would be nice for children.

Based in Marietta, The Georgia Ballet teaches a variety of dance classes for children as young as age 3, as well as for adults. I don’t know if I’d return for another production, but I look forward to taking the adult ballet class.

Original choreography by Sir Fredrick Ashton, staged by Daet Rodriguez and Margit Peguero, music by Ferdinand Herold, “The Girl Who Needed Watching” runs through Oct. 8 at Marietta Performing Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased at the event or online at GAB.

Book Festival of the MJCCA, November 4-20

2017 September 27

The Book Festival of the MJCCA will hold the 26th edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA. From November 4-20 nearly 50 authors will discuss their latest books.

Headlining Authors 
Social Commentator Reza Aslan
NYT Bestselling Author and Humorist Dave Barry
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
Former First Daughters Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush
Senator Al Franken
Renowned Author and Journalist Walter Isaacson
NYT Bestselling Author Nicole Krauss
Diet Guru and Lifestyle Expert Lisa Lillien
Celebrated Inventor and Entrepreneur Joy Mangano
News Icon Dan Rather
NBC National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen

More than 13,000 people from across the Southeast will come to engage with and listen to their favorite local, national, and international authors. Most events will be held at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), 5342 Tilly Mill Road, DunwoodyTo see the entire lineup and to purchase tickets, click here.

‘The Christians’ a Must See at Actor’s Express

2017 September 25

If “The Christians” is not the best performance I’ve ever seen at Actor’s Express, it’s certainly one of the best. The script, set and acting are outstanding.

Inside this megachurch where Pastor Paul (Brian Kurlander) preaches a sermon, which begins with “Where we are today.” The church has just paid off its debts stemming from its enormous building and parking lot. He segues into a heart-wrenching story about love and acceptance, and the religious message is unlike any ever before, rankling some staff and congregants.

The stage where the pastors preach looks like the set of a televangelist. Sitting close to the pulpit are Pastor Paul’s wife (Kathleen Wattis Kettrey), Associate Pastor Joshua (Enoch King) and a church Elder (Greta M. Glenn). I feel like I’m in church, but the play does not feel preachy at all. When Associate Pastor Joshua (Enoch King) says, “Please bow your heads and pray,” I feel like doing it.

Pastor Paul’s sermon splinters the church. Associate Pastor Joshua, board member Elder (Greta M. Glenn) and choir member Jenny (Sarah Newby Halicks) all challenge his reasoning. His wife questions his intentions. Conflict abounds, but it never feels gratuitous, and all the while Pastor Paul stays as calm, kind and reasonable as a wise old sage.

The set, by Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay, makes you feel like you’re right there in church with beautiful stained glass windows and an enormous cross nearly as tall as the building.

Directed by Freddie Ashley, written by Lucas Hnath, “The Christians” runs through Oct. 15 at Actor’s Express.

‘The King and I’ at The Fox

2017 September 18
by Susan Asher

The Lincoln Center Theater Production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” comes to The Fox Sept. 26-Oct. 1. Directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, the Lincoln Center production won four 2015 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. The show features classic tunes, which include “Getting To Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance” and “Something Wonderful.”

Based on the novel by Margaret Landon and derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, the musical tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist King, in an imperialistic world, brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children.

There’s no word on the Fox website on who will be in the cast, but last December the Los Angeles Times said, “Music supervisor Ted Sperling helms a blissful cast, spearheaded by Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna and Jose Llana as the King of Siam. Matter-of-factly elegant, Kelly imbues her character with a refreshing naturalism. Early in the musical, her rendition of “Hello, Young Lovers” establishes the widowed Anna’s sheer dauntlessness, but with an unmistakable undercurrent of loss that brings tears to our eyes — just one example of a masterful, moving performance.

“Any actor who plays the King must find his own light in the shadow of Yul Brynner’s indelible portrayal, and Llana certainly shines in his delightfully revisionist turn, which emphasizes the boyish uncertainty under his character’s outward imperiousness. Veins of previously unplumbed humor come to light in the performance, but when it comes time to twist the heartstrings, he has the gravitas, judging from the prolific use of hankies throughout the audience.”

The musical premiered on March 29, 1951, at Broadway’s St. James Theatre, where it ran for nearly three years, making it the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history at the time. It won three Tony Awards, one of which was for Best Musical.

Not in Love with ‘Shakespeare in Love’
Alliance Theatre at Oglethorpe

2017 September 7
by Susan Asher

A fantastic movie becomes a bore when it comes to the Alliance Theatre’s staged version of “Shakespeare in Love.”

This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine as well as my companion who was ready to leave after intermission. And so we did.

The movie was captivating as was the unforgettable performance of Gwyneth Paltrow for her role as Viola, which garnered her an Academy Award. If only we could say the same for this cast and this Viola, my friend and I might have stayed for the entire production. The movie “Shakespeare in Love” was brilliant. What light through yonder window breaks at this production? Very little.

Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, directed by Richard Garner, “Shakespeare in Love” runs on the state at Oglethorpe University through Sept. 24. Tickets are available at the Alliance Theatre.

Comic Carol Leifer at the MJCCA, Sept. 10

2017 August 19
by Susan Asher

Carol Leifer, acclaimed stand-up comedian, Emmy-nominated writer and best-selling author, brings to the MJCCA stage her one-woman show that touches on aging, love, parenthood, family matters, and the world of Jewish humor. Hailed by The Washington Post as “one of the best comedic minds of our time,” Leifer has headlined at The Comic Strip, Catch A Rising Star and The Improv. Her writing and producing credits include Saturday Night Live, The Larry Sanders Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Seinfeld – where she is known as the inspiration for the character Elaine Benes. She is a regular writer for the Academy Awards and has written for Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres. She is also the author of two best-selling books, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life of Comedy and When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win.

Leifer performs Sunday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marcus Jewish Community Center Atlanta. Tickets are $20 for MJCCA members and $25 for nonmembers and are available online here.

‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch

2017 August 13

L to R: Alex Van, Al Stilo and Jayson Warner Smith (in background)

You may have seen it a few years ago on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre, but “Glengarry Glen Ross” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, is playing again, this time at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre. Even if you’ve seen the play before, there’s good reason to see this production: two stellar performances by Al Stilo and Alex Van. These two carry the play, but castmate Marcus LaRon trails only slightly behind. The rest of the cast is left in the dust, but when these two stars are on stage, Mamet’s script zips along with a roar.

It’s the 1980s, and an office of deceitful salesmen are attempting to sell properties and get their names on the sales board to win the latest contest. Years ago Shelly Levene (Al Stilo) was the star of the salesforce, but he tells his office manager, John (Omer Mughal), that the reason he hasn’t been making sales in years is because he only gets bad sales leads.

Dave (Alex Van) has a plan on how he can make money and get back at management for not taking care of its sales force. When his scheme goes awry, he flails about foaming at the mouth. Richard (Grant McGowen) suckers James (Marcus LaRon) into buying some land he can’t afford. When James realizes he’s been conned, he comes down to the office shaking and crying.

Directed by Grant McGowen, “Glengarry Glen Ross” features two separate casts. The night I saw the show, it also featured Andy Fleming and Jennifer Schottstaedt. The show runs through Sept. 23 at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre.

‘An American in Paris’ at the Fox Theatre,
Aug. 15-20

2017 August 2
by Susan Asher

The national touring company of “An American In Paris,” the four-time Tony Award-winning production that earned more awards than any other musical in the 2014-2015 season, will be at the Fox Theatre Aug. 15-20. The story, based on the 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, revolves around an American solider and a mysterious French girl, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. Updated from the movie version, the story is still cheesy but the music by George and Ira Gershwin is THE reason to see this show. No two composers have ever put out any music greater than that of the Gershwins.

Some of the songs in the movie version have been excised but new ones like “(I’ve Got) Beginners Luck” have been added. Reviews of the national touring company say the singing and dancing are excellent.

“An American in Paris” runs Aug. 15-20 at the Fox Theatre. Tickets run from $33.50-$113.50.