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Alliance Theatre launches virtual play club

2020 April 8
by Susan Asher

COVID-19 be damned! The show must go on!

The Alliance Theatre presents its new virtual Play Club series to showcase the scripts chosen as finalists in its 16th annual Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition.  The Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition has a strong track record of identifying the most exciting new voices in American theatre, including past winners Tarell Alvin McCraney, Madhuri Shekar, Jireh Breon Holder, Mike Lew, Alix Sobler, and Steph Del Rosso.  


This year’s finalists had been scheduled for staged readings as part of the Alliance’s Festival of New Works until the festival was canceled.  Instead of staged readings, the virtual Play Club will follow a book club model: four scripts will be made available on the Alliance Theatre website for audiences to read between April 9 and April 24.  After the scripts have been available for a week, the Alliance will begin hosting a series of free live conversations with the playwright of each play to discuss the script.  


The virtual Play Club series will culminate with an Artists Roundtable Discussion moderated by Rachel Karpf, former Artistic Producer, WP Theater, NYC, and will feature all four Alliance/Kendeda Competition finalists, as well as Atlanta-based playwrights Will Power, Steve Coulter, Kimberly Belflower, Mary Lynn Owen, and Mark Kendall
Virtual Play Club Schedule:

Thursday, April 9 – All four finalists scripts are available to view at www.alliancetheatre.org/virtualplayclub.  

Thursday, April 16, 4:00 p.m. – Unkindness by Logan Faust (NYU Tisch), a conversation with the playwright, director Matt Torney and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Friday, April 17, 7:00 p.m. – Djarum Vanilla by Cary J. Simowitz (UCLA), a conversation with the playwright, director Keith Bolden and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Thursday, April 23, 4:00 p.m. – Monster by Ava Geyer (UCSD), a conversation with the playwright, director January LaVoy and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Friday, April 24, 4:00 p.m. – Stitched with a Sickle and a Hammer by Inna Tsyrlin (Ohio University). In conversation with the playwright, director Lauren Morris and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Friday, April 24, 5:30 p.m. – Artists Roundtable Discussion moderated by Rachel Karpf, former Artistic Producer, WP Theater, NYC, and featuring all four Alliance/Kendeda Competition finalists, as well as Atlanta playwrights Will Power, Steve Coulter, Kimberly Belflower, Mary Lynn Owen, and Mark Kendall. 

All virtual events are free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required so that each link to the live conversation may be emailed to participants.  Learn more and RSVP at www.alliancetheatre.org/virtualplayclub

‘Indecent’ at Theatrical Outfit brings magnificence

2020 March 22
by Susan Asher

 “Indecent,” the 2017 Tony Award-nominee for Best Play, is now playing at Theatrical Outfit. This is one the best plays and performances I’ve seen in years.

“Indecent” tells the history of a theater company in the early 1900s when a young Jewish Polish writer, Sholem Asch, wrote a play about the darker side of Jewish life. “God of Vengence” revolved around a Jewish family, living above the husband’s brothel, and the daughter’s love and sexual relationship with a Jewish prostitute. The play was performed in Yiddish for years around Europe and eventually, the theater troupe moved the show to New York where it eventually played on Broadway, was shut down after one performance and got the company thrown in jail for indecency.

The play and cast are outstanding. While crowds are mainly staying at home to combat Covid-19, Theatrical Outfit is staying open and selling general admission seats so people can sit far away from one another. If you’re one to chance getting out, this is one place you need to go.

Directed by Mira Hirsch, musical direction by Chip Epsten, and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Vogel for “How I Learned to Drive,” “Indecent” runs through March 29 at Theatrical Outfit.

Cast:

Andrew Benator
Stephanie Friedman
Pamela Gold
Brian Kurlander
Clayton Landey
Christina Leidel
Brandon Michael Mayes

Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Rialto Center for the Arts, Saturday, March 7

2020 March 4
by Susan Asher
Dee Dee Bridgewater on NPR Tiny Desk Concert Series

Three-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Dee Dee Bridgewater will perform this Saturday at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

A renowned jazz singer, Bridgewater has performed with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the Terence Blanchard Quintet and many others. She is the former host of NPR’s syndicated radio show JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Bridgewater has received seven Grammy Award nominations. In 1975, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress for her role in “The Wiz.” I saw her in it when the Northside High School of Performing Arts went to New York over the Thanksgiving Day holidays and saw three Broadway shows. She can be heard on more than 50 albums.

Bridgewater will sing Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

Harlan Coben, Emily Griffin Book Talk at MJCCA

2020 February 18
by Susan Asher

A Page from the Book Festival of the MJCCA presents a #1 New York Times bestselling author, Harlan Coben. He and New York Times best-selling author Emily Griffin will discuss his newest book, “The Boy from the Woods,” Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m.

In Coben’s latest thriller, a man whose past is shrouded in mystery must find a missing teenage girl before her disappearance brings about disastrous consequences for her community and the world. The Harlan Coben author talk and book-signing event will be held at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta – 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody.

Tickets: $35.00 and includes a hardcover copy of the book. For information, visit atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or call 678.812.4002.

‘Maybe Happy Ending’ at Alliance Theatre
Makes You Happy

2020 February 7

There’s no maybe about it. The U.S. debut of “Maybe Happy Ending,” now playing at the Alliance Theatre, will delight you.

This innovative musical about human-like robots in Seoul, Korea, has won six Korean musical awards and the Richard Rodgers Award. But this story is not about robots. It’s about humanity. And the two main characters, Claire (Cathy Ang) and Oliver (Kenny Tran), seem to be as human as any one of us.

Claire and Oliver live in private rooms in a building that houses obsolete helperbots. With no humans for them to service any longer, they live out the rest of their lives in their own rooms without venturing outside their doors. That is until Claire’s charger malfunctions, and to save her life she must cross the hallway to borrow one from her neighbor.

Oliver spends his days pining for his past owner, listening to jazz albums and reading the latest monthly jazz magazine brought to him by the mail carrier. When he hears a knock on his door and sees Claire, he’s reluctant to let her inside. But in time he relents, and within days they become friends.

In time Claire and Oliver find themselves falling in love, but they know they must squash their feelings.

Claire exclaims, “Robots don’t have feelings.”

With lifespans that will expire within a year or two, they must decide whether to keep living with deep feelings for one another only to suffer loss upon the other’s expiration or to end future pain now.

“Maybe Happy Ending,” whose setting takes place in the future, reminds us how similar we are to these helperbots.

The Korean version of “Maybe Happy Ending” won Best Book, Lyrics & Music at the Korean Musical Awards, and the English version was awarded 2017’s Richard Rodgers Production Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Alliance Theatre pairs a wonderful cast with innovative set designs and lighting. A revolving stage instantaneously transports the audience from Oliver’s apartment to Claire’s, to an outside garbage alley. Long rays of horizontal and vertical light beams on frames zoom in and out, blocking out large parts of the set, bringing focus to a tiny portion of a room and a helperbot’s heart.

Book and music by Will Aronson and Hue Park, directed by Michael Arden, “Maybe Happy Ending” runs through Feb. 16 on the Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

Cast:
Dez Duron . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gil Brentley
John D. Haggerty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . James
Diana Huey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JiYeon

Johnny Mercer Tribute
The Rialto Friday, Feb. 7

2020 January 31
by Susan Asher

Joe Gransden, Grammy-nominated vocalist Tierney Sutton, and the Georgia State Jazz Band will perform the hits and new arrangements of unpublished works by Johnny Mercer. Songs by the singer, composer, and lyricist have won numerous awards and have been recorded by Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and REM.

Between 1939 and 1972, Mercer walked away with four Oscar awards–having been nominated 19 times–and two Grammy awards. His most popular songs include “Jeepers Creepers,” “Old Black Magic,” “Tangerine,” “Goody, Goody,” “Blues in the Night,” and “Moon River.”

Marco Maritz, a master’s degree-seeking student in the Georgia State University Jazz Studies program, created new arrangements for unpublished songs hailing from undated draft lyrics and musical notation on scraps of notepaper. GSU houses and manages the Johnny Mercer Collection, which includes Mercer’s personal papers documenting his life and career.

Leading the band will be trumpeter and vocalist Joe Gransden who has played as a sideman with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. As well as performing regularly around Atlanta with his own big band, Gransden performs in jazz clubs in New York and around the world.

The band’s singer, nine-time Grammy-nominee Tierney Sutton, has received nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Album for every project she has released for the last decade. She has headlined at the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. She can be heard on film and television soundtracks, including the Academy Award-nominated film “The Cooler,” and on television commercials (BMW, Green Giant, Yoplait Yogurt, Coke).

Tickets for the Johnny Mercer Tribute start at $20 and are available at the Rialto Center’s box office, by phone (404) 413-9849, or at events.rialtocenter.gsu.edu. The Rialto offers a 50% discount to senior citizens and $5 tickets for GSU students.

‘Fun Home’ at Actor’s Express

2020 January 20
by Susan Asher


The Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home” at Actors Express is not to be missed. The cast, script and music are all terrific, and this show is for people of all ages.

Based on her memoir, the play tells the story of Alison Bechdel’s family life in Pennsylvania where her father restores old homes, teaches high school English and operates a funeral home right out of the family house where he embalms dead bodies.

Alison is shown at three different periods in her life: in elementary school (Eden Mew), in college (Marcia Cunning) where she discovers she and her father, Bruce (Jeff McKerley), are both gay, and as an adult cartoon artist (Rhyn McLemore Saver) who creates comic strips based on her life growing up.

While everything must look picture-perfect for Bruce, including the family home he has restored, young Alison’s attire and drawings, and the bodies he embalms, behind the scenes he leads a double life. Eventually, this becomes his downfall.

But all is not serious as this is a musical, and there are fun numbers reminiscent of ‘60s and ‘70s family pop bands like The Jackson 5, The Cowsills, and The Partridge Family. There are also some heartfelt songs, especially, “Ring of Keys,” which young Alison belts out when for the first time she sees a woman who is dressed like a man, the way she would like to dress.

The story, singing and acting are top-notch, and Jeff McKerley is utterly outstanding. You may have missed “Fun Home” on Broadway, but if you see it at Actor’s Express, you won’t miss Broadway.

Based on the novel by Alison Bechdel, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, directed by Freddie Ashley, “Fun Home” runs through February 16 at Actor’s Express.

Cast:

Michelle Pokopac . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joan
Vinny Montague . . . . . . . . . . . . . John
Natasha Drena . . . . . . . . . . . . . Helen
Juan Carlos Unzueta . . . . . . . . Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby Jeremy
Alex Newberg . . . . . . . . . . . . . Christian

‘Night Must Fall” at Georgia Ensemble Theatre

2019 October 27
by Susan Asher

What a terrific cast Georgia Ensemble Theatre has in “Night Must Fall.”

It’s 1935 and elderly, querulous Mrs. Bramson’s sits in her wheelchair at home among her servants, including her niece, Olivia.

Her maid, Dora, reveals she’s become pregnant by a bellhop at a local fancy hotel, Dan, and Bramson demands to meet him and that the two marry.

When he arrives, while Dora is out of the room, Dan flirts with Olivia, says he was a former male nurse and charms Bramson into hiring him.

The radio broadcasts news tells of a local woman who was murdered. An investigator shows up, and Dan appears to be a suspect.

The play was first performed in 1935, and in 1937, was adapted to a film starring Rosalind Russell.

I’m a sucker for movies and music from the 1930s and ’40s, but only if their well done. This is, and I highly recommend it.

Written by Emlyn Williams, directed by Shannon Eubanks, “Night Must Fall” plays at Georgia Ensemble Theatre through November 10.

Cast: Susan Shaloub Larkin, Christina Leidel, Eliana Marianes, Doyle Reynolds, Joanna Danie, Rebecca Botter, Joe Sykes, and Jonathan Horne.

A Page from the Book Festival of the MJCCA

2019 September 18
by Susan Asher
From 2016 Miami Book Fair

Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry and New York Times bestselling author Adam Mansbach, authors of “A Field Guide to the Jewish People,” will be speaking and signing books at The Book Festival of the MJCCA Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

The New York Times called Barry the funniest man in America. He has written many New York Times bestselling humor books, including “Live Right, Best. State. Ever,” and “Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster).” Barry wrote a nationally syndicated humor column for the Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005. He has also written numerous humor books and comic novels.

Adam Mansbach is a novelist, screenwriter, cultural critic and humorist. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Go the F*** to Sleep, which has been translated into forty languages, named Time Magazine’s 2011 “Thing of the Year,” and sold over two million copies worldwide. 

The event will be held Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the MJCCA (Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta – 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody). Click here for tickets: $18-$35 and more information.

‘Our Town’ at Theatrical Outfit

2019 September 9
by Susan Asher

I don’t care if you’ve seen the classical Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Our Town” ten times or never, but if you want to see a great theatrical production, go see it at Theatrical Outfit.

The acting is so good, and Emily (Maggie Birgel) could not have made anyone feel so much or put so many viewers to tears.

Life in Grover’s Corners back in the early 1900s doesn’t appear to be much different from life in the mid 1900s. Neighbors knew one another, the milkman came regularly and people fell in love with the girl or boy next door.

In the three-act play, the stage manager sets the scene and provides the history of the small town of Grover’s Corner. It’s slow moving, but stay with it because the pace picks up in Acts 2 and 3.

Whether you’ve wondered about the meaning of life or never questioned it, you’ll discover it at “Our Town.” Written by Thornton Wilder, David Hyatt Crowe, “Our Town” runs in repertory with “The Laramie Project” through Sept. 29.