Reviews and Features

Measure for Measure ★1/2

image77

Raleigh Little Theatre

Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre

RALEIGH, NC

January 11 - 27, 2019
Possible holdover through Feb. 3


by Dustin K. Britt

January 16, 2019


RATING: 1.5 stars (out of 5)


Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is less a full-length play than a pair of discrete one-acts, intercut as one would A and B plots of a film. He tries to connect them in an ending that rivals The Wizard of Oz in expediency and downright laziness.


Measure is as big a problem as a Shakespearean “problem play” can get. It does not merely straddle a fence between tragedy and comedy, its characters operate on two sides of an impenetrable barrier. It is a director’s formidable task to crank up a wrecking ball and bring it down. If a director cannot break through before the play is done, characters from both stories run headlong at the wall in an attempt to meet each other, leaving themselves, the plot, and the audience battered, bloodied, and bewildered. 


Director Rebecca Blum has big ideas for Measure. High-concept, topical, and engaging ideas. And she has a lot of them: separating the tragic and comedic stories in space, the presence and agency of five children (her boldest and riskiest move), delineating the relationship between a government and its people, ever-changing graffiti that highlights important themes, casting a young girl as Pompey the Pimp, repetition of textual motifs, and increased sexual violence.


Blum’s most impactful addition is the echoing, haunting mantra of “who will believe thee, Isabel?” which increases the audience’s empathy level tenfold. The literal erasure of women’s words might have been effective were it visible to the entire audience and less distracting during scenes on the opposite end of the stage. Children Will Listen is as pertinent a message as it ever has been, and Blum recognizes that. But the M.O. of the child cast is unclear: we know that they are there, sometimes interactive sometimes not, sometimes visible sometimes not. But any potential effect of their presence remains unseen.


RLT’s production has its own problem: the simultaneous presentation of all of these concepts. Shakespeare’s puzzle is challenging enough on its own, so the space for high-concept must be reserved for one or two potent, extremely clear interpretations. Otherwise the barrier is attacked with a half-dozen chisels rather than one big wrecking ball. I don’t know which chisel to watch and there’s no final breakthrough. 


Blum’s added grande finale wants very much to be 1960s-era agitprop theatre, but is more like a 1970s after school special, summarizing What We Learned Today, assuming that the audience have not understood a single moment of the previous two and a half hours. 


And there was one more thing I could not piece together. Why would such a capable design team create such an aimless assembly of unattached images? Upon further investigation, and a conversation with a couple of production-related parties, I discovered that Blum’s characters exist in different historical periods. The production is designed as such. This explains the odd presence of a Cosmopolitan magazine in an 18th century tavern and other such oddities. This is an intriguing idea, but complex enough that it needs to be the production’s sole driving concept. 


Donna Rossi Youngblood is an endearing Mistress Overdone while Benjamin Tarlton is a magnificently funny (but also a bit overdone) Lucio and Laura J. Parker leans deftly into the ill-tempered Elbow with body, voice, and mind. Niki Jacobsen presents a sturdy Escalus and Will Harris is a foreboding Abhorson, contrasting nicely with his prisoner: Christopher Blackwell’s goofy Barnardine. Rebecca Nelson makes a surprising impact in the thankless role of demure Juliet and Kylee Silvas’s weary Mariana is absolutely devastating. 


Rosemary Richards is a triumphant Isabel, earning sympathy for her character, not demanding pity for her. Richards is working overtime to appear threatened, since Wade Newhouse’s Angelo doesn’t provide much impetus. The newly-added physical assault on Isabel is appropriately shocking, but now an odor of “Well, at least he didn’t rape her,” is in the room: a thought that undermines all of Angelo’s emotional and mental abuse, presenting it as a lesser of two evils. And a man so prone to sexual assault has no need for a complicated blackmail scheme in the first place.


What this all means is that one of our area’s most inventive directors has brought a half dozen or so of the most unexpected and fascinating perspectives on Measure one is ever likely to encounter. But rather than trusting one or two of these concepts to work their magic--which they almost certainly would have done--we had to decide for ourselves which track we were going to follow, at the expense of clarity and impact.

info & tickets

The Mozart Experience

image78

A Mom & Son Review

North Carolina Symphony Young People's Concert Series

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Meymandi Concert Hall

January 5, 2019


by Rachel Kasten & Emory Kasten

January 7, 2019


 The Mom & Son Rating System:

  • Thumbs Up 👍
  • Shrug 🤷‍
  • Thumbs Down 👎

Mom Says: THUMBS UP 👍


North Carolina Symphony’s The Mozart Experience, part of its Young People’s Concert series, is a brisk, enjoyable introduction to Mozart for children but may not offer much new for adults. My experience was admittedly overshadowed by the child sitting next to us who spoke for a solid 45 minutes of the show. His adult companion threatened to take him home multiple times; if only she had. 


Presumably, one of the goals of the Young People’s Concerts is to introduce children not only to classical music, but also to the etiquette of attending live performance. In that vein, perhaps NC Symphony should consider providing some ground rules at the beginning of the show tailored to the young audience.


The conceit of the show is that a busker/mime named Maggie (played by the energetic, thoroughly entertaining Maggie Petersen of the Magic Circle Mime Company) is caught playing on the orchestra’s piano and is invited to portray Mozart in the concert. We are led to believe that Maggie and the Conductor, Wesley Schulz, have an established relationship; Maggie also has a mime friend (Mark Douglas MacIntyre) who seems to appear and disappear at random. The storyline is fuzzy, but it serves its purpose well enough.


Early on, Shulz mentions that Mozart performed his first concert at the age of six, forcing all of the parents in the audience to make mental notes of our children’s relative lack of success. Shulz is a charming emcee and makes a strong case for Mozart as a fashionable prankster and life of the party, not the stuffy old man that Maggie initially believes. This allows Maggie to don a flashy Amadeus-inspired costume, with plenty of sparkle and a fabulous pair of shiny silver breeches.


The program includes many of Mozart’s most well-known pieces, including Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which showed off the orchestra’s beautiful dynamics. Ted Federle was a playful Papageno from The Magic Flute, whom Shulz referred to as “the original Big Bird.” Kali Bate, a 9th grader, showed poise and professionalism in her violin solo, and it was a nice touch for the children in the audience to be able to imagine themselves on stage in the not-too-distant future. A highlight was the Don Giovanni overture, during which MacIntyre stalked across the stage as a ghost, much to the delight of the children in the audience.


There were several moments where the audience became restless, particularly during Violin Concerto No. 3 and the program’s closing performance of “Jupiter.” A more hummable mix of music (perhaps Symphony No. 40?) could have helped, as could incorporating more of Petersen and MacIntyre, who both left the stage for long stretches of time. Petersen worked hard, playing both accordion and piano, dancing, and miming, and the children were engaged as long as they had her expressive movements to watch.


My son/co-pilot thoroughly enjoyed the show, which means that NC Symphony did their job well. I noticed several kids dancing in their seats and playing air clarinet. With a few tweaks - seriously, etiquette rules at the top of the show are a must - this series will make both children and their jaded parents excited about classical music.


Son Says: THUMBS UP 👍


The Mozart Experience is a concert with a bunch of musical instruments. We learned about what Mozart was like as a kid. There were two mimes with face paint, and they even played instruments! I liked that Maggie, one of the mimes, wanted to play the accordion instead of the violin. There isn’t usually an accordion in the orchestra. The other mime went away after the beginning, and I’m not sure where he went.


Maggie acted so silly the whole time, and it was hilarious! She kept trying to get money from the audience and the musicians. She tried and tried until finally the conductor gave her one penny. I liked the conductor a lot and thought he was great. He was the only one who talked though, and I wish there was more talking. There were certain colors of lights at certain times, which was so cool. Like, when it was nighttime music, the lights were blue and purple, and when it was kind of scary music, the lights were dark orange.


My favorite part was Don Giovanni because there was a ghost/monster and a fight scene! I love when Maggie defeated the monster using a pencil! I’m glad I wasn’t sitting in the front row when the monster came out, because he was a little creepy. Then I finally figured out that the monster was the other mime dressed up!


It was a very good show, and other kids should go to the symphony too.


Photo by Rachel Kasten.

learn more

A John Waters Christmas ★★★1/2

image79

On Tour, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

December 18, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

December 26, 2018


RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)


Legendary indie filmmaker, photographer, and author John Waters came to put the X back in Xmas just a few sleeps before that famous fat man squeezes down the chimney. With trademark irreverence, Waters regaled the naughtiest of anecdotes with a serene confidence befitting an academic lecture, though the woefully unprepared lighting team (either Waters's or Duke Energy Center's) made the show's first half a shadowy one.


Not a stand-up comic per se, Waters’s rapid-fire barrage of distasteful cultural observations is tightly-scripted and remarkably rehearsed: somewhere between George Carlin and Spalding Gray. And unlike most stand-ups, Waters is not here for give-and-take. He’s here to give the gift of gaudiness and nothing the audience does is going to change the bit. While this offers precision and maximizes playing time, it takes away the communal element and keeps him at a distance.


Akin to previous monologue tours This Filthy World (2006) and This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier (2017), Waters dabbles in Hollywood anecdotes (the stuff we think we want to hear) but leans most heavily into firing shit-starting opinions into the crowd. We accept, absorb, and revel in the splendor of his decidedly rebellious views. The line between wink-wink irony and ass-on-the-line anarchy is a thin one, but Waters is always earnest. What makes this tour different is its focal point: Christmas.


Framed as a series of WWJD (What Would John Do?) holiday scenarios, he outlines his plans for cultural domination, each perfectly-paced rant increasing in speed and debauchery until we have lost breath from laughing and formed cramps from cringing.


Waters’s artistic work has always been boldly, unashamedly queer. He questions sociosexual norms through a mix of satire, parody, and downright mockery of the sexual status quo. Even now, the 72-year-old gay Baltimorian gets away with his fair share of “problematic” material thanks to a track record of anti-hetero and anti-affluence films. We know where his allegiances lie. 


As gays have become married, sober, law-abiding citizens, he misses the days of his youth where pissed off queer punks were trying overthrow the patriarchy with bricks and public nudity. He resents straight middle-class families playing Sideline Ally at pride parades and grows weary of the fishy glam of RuPaul’s cavalcade of catty queens (he’s dreaming of John Waters’s Hag Race). The Pope of Trash touches on any number of gay topics: the late porn legend Jon Vincent, the ever-campy Paul Lynde and the dangers of confusing Gun Oil™ with Hoppes No. 9™. 


Bemoaning Hairspray’s loss of its satirical edge, he imagines a re-agitation, flipping the racial casting with Gabby Sidibe as Tracy, Celine Dion as Motormouth Maybelle, and Troye Sivan as Seaweed. That’ll get folks riled up for sure. 


Ultimately, Waters does not want your praise, admiration, or even (just) your cash. He wants you to join his him as he burns our hypocritical, cynical world to ashes, instigating riots, promoting queer anarchy, terrifying neighborhoods with Halloween decorations at Christmastime, training deer to shoot back, and defending the guilty--just for fun. His one-man shows are scintillating, jaw-dropping car crashes that one cannot look away from. His audience is a passionate one. He wants a glorious, angsty, glittery Jonestown massacre, not a well-behaved Christmas Eve concert. 


Though the content is new, the flat visual presentation and abnormally subdued Waters makes this Christmas special less special than it could have been. Still, Waters groupies got what they needed and the uninitiated got what they deserved: a deliciously scandalous evening with Baltimore's Bastion of Bad Taste.


Photo courtesy of Bob Nocek Presents.

more info

The Nutcracker Suite

image80

A Mom & Son Review

Cary Ballet Company at the Cary Arts Center

CARY, NC

December 16, 2018


by Rachel Kasten & Emory Kasten

December 16, 2018


The Mom & Son Rating System:

  • Thumbs Up 👍
  • Shrug 🤷‍
  • Thumbs Down 👎

Mom Says: THUMBS UP 👍


“We want you to see how we take this empty space and turn it into something magical,” announced Mariaelena Ruiz, Artistic Director of Cary Ballet Company. With The Nutcracker Suite, a one-hour condensed version of The Nutcracker ballet aimed at young theatre-goers, CBC certainly succeeded. After a brief warm-up class/ballet demonstration, which seemed to deflate much of the excitement in the packed crowd, Ruiz made good on her promise. Standing in the middle of a bare stage, she called for lights, backdrops, props, and more, explaining the theatre terminology as the stage filled. She also made sure to point out the importance of the backstage crew in making the show run smoothly. And with stagecraft - not magic - we were transported into Clara’s living room.


The opening scene was beautifully staged, and Heather Iler’s choreography allowed even the youngest dancer to shine. 13-year-old Jasmine Murley was a picture-perfect Clara, and if dancing doesn’t work out for Niklas Zisk (Godfather Drosselmeyer), he may want to consider a career as a magician. His sleight-of-hand had both the children on stage and in the audience entranced. 10-year-old (!) Olivia Sacchetillo was awe-inducing as a Harlequin Doll; she didn’t move a muscle when frozen and executed her mechanical movements with precision. Ryan Razon showed real acting talent and charisma in his brief time on stage and clearly loved playing the mischievous Fritz. Let’s get him into a community theatre role ASAP.


The scene change from the Battle to the Snow King & Snow Queen Pas was stunning. Kudos to the stage manager and lighting designer for quickly thrusting the audience into another world, aided by Jan Marie Kurdin’s detailed costume design. Cecilia Jansen and Joshua O’Connor displayed strength and poise in a show-stopping piece choreographed by Ruiz. The transition that ended Act I was less gracefully handled, though, and the audience became restless waiting for the beginning of Act II. There was no intermission needed, but CBC should consider something else to fill the time while the dancers change costumes.


Act II was a whirlwind trip through the Land of Sweets. Brittney Maerker displayed how to make a jaw-dropping entrance as the Sugarplum Fairy, Logan White (Spanish Dance) was beguiling and self-assured and could easily headline a show, and Jenna Bruce and Izhak Eschebach were perfectly cast as the exotic, captivating pair leading the Arabian Dance. There was also some beautiful scarf work in the Arabian Dance, but Timour Bourtasenkov’s entertaining choreography seemed challenging for the ensemble dancers. 


As expected, the Russian Dance was a crowd-pleaser, and Bourtasenkov made Joaquin Gaubeca and Corben Simpson work hard to earn their applause (though Simpson may want to practice his poker face when he is displeased with his performance). Of the many groups of dancers, the Marzipan ensemble was the strongest overall. The Waltz of the Flowers featured the most beautiful costumes in the show (seriously, can I have one of those ombre pink tutus?), and Ruiz ably staged the large ensemble without making the stage seem overcrowded. Joshua O’Connor (Cavalier) delivered a worthy finale; watching him feels like being given an early Christmas present you’re not really sure you deserve. He has something special.


Cary Ballet’s The Nutcracker Suite is a wonderful introduction to ballet for any child, and it was a privilege to see so much local talent on one stage. While not the most high-profile Nutcracker in town, you can bring the entire family for the cost of one ticket to one of those other versions, leaving plenty leftover for buying gifts.


- Rachel Kasten, mom


Son Says: THUMBS UP 👍

 

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this show, because my mom told me that the characters in a ballet don’t talk at all. I was glad there was a Narrator (Ruiz) who explained what was happening. It was a little weird that we had to watch the dancers warm up at the beginning, but I like seeing how high the boys could jump. And the lifting! Oh my gosh! The boys lifted the girls up all the way over their heads!


I was surprised that the kids were dancing with guns, but they were fake. The dolls that came to life were huge and they could walk and dance, and the Soldier Doll (Norah Whelehan) outfit was cool. I liked the Mouse Queen (Mary Linares), even though the rats were trying to hurt Clara’s Nutcracker. They were selling Rat King toys outside, but there wasn’t a Rat King in the show. I’m not sure why. Clara (Jasmine Murley) was brave, and I think she killed the Mouse Queen. Or at least chased her away. She saved the Nutcracker, instead of the other way around. Clara is actually the main character in The Nutcracker. Then the Godfather (Niklas Zisk) turned the Nutcracker (Corben Simpson) into a prince! That was my favorite part. 


It was awesome how the Snow King (Joshua O’Connor) lifted the Snow Queen (Cecilia Jensen) when they danced together, and I liked their costumes, too. There were snowflakes everywhere. It was confusing when the curtain went down between two scenes; I thought the show was over, even though it was so short. But it wasn’t over yet.


The next scene had a backdrop of all different candies and cake, which I loved. I wish they were real so I could eat them. My favorite dance in the Land of Sweets was definitely the Russian Dance. There were cartwheels and so many jumps. The boys got to jump over each other’s heads. It was the best! I also really liked the lifts that the Cavalier (Joshua O’Connor) did with the Sugarplum Fairy (Brittney Maerker). She had a really sparkly crown too.


Everyone should go see The Nutcracker Suite at Cary Arts Center. They know that some kids have never been to a ballet before, so they talk through what is happening in the show. You won’t be confused. They have lots of cool moves - lifting, cartwheels, and other things like that. 


- Emory Kasten, son


Photo by Rachel Kasten.

more info

Patton Oswalt ★★★

image81

Meymandi Concert Hall (On Tour)

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

December 8, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

December 12, 2018


RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)


Many comics hit the Age 50 mark with a sense of woe, complaining of receding hairlines, sexless marriages, and back aches. 


But 50 is not coming for Patton Oswalt, he’s coming for it. His current big is not Being 50 Sucks Amiright? It is much more Have You Seen These 50s People? It’s relatable to the entire room, whether you’ve begun rolling down the proverbial hill or just observed the red track-suited grandpa--in better shape than any club-goer in his 20s--doing laps at the mall.


We know that kids’ cereal boxes are bestrewn with puzzles and cartoons. But dad’s cereals, filled with the Great Grains of the Old Testament, disappoint us all with soporific tales of the company’s hippie-dippie origins.

 

Oswalt, who worked at Charlie Goodnight’s as a teenager, is comfortable in Raleigh. He admirably attempted some crowd work on Saturday night, but Murphy’s Law took hold. He drove into a ditch and would not take his foot off the gas, robbing the evening of much of its pacing and laughs. Not to say that spontaneity is a problem. He wandered the vast, empty Meymandi concert hall stage, bemused by the ridiculousness of putting comedy here (especially given echoey speech acoustics) and bemoaned the extreme length of the mic cord (his OCD kicked in and he spent much of the night impressively coiling).

 

He figuratively held a loaded gun to his foot and dug deep into contemporary women’s issues. The audience’s reaction--women included--was one of thunderous agreement. The gun never went off. He boldly called out “another comic” for infamously uninvited masturbatory attacks on women.


That night, just hours before Snowstorm ‘18 was to hit the triangle, Meymandi stage manager played with Oswalt, unexpectedly cuing up Christmas decorations and snowflake lighting when Oswalt went into some new holiday material. The absurdity of the Little Drummer Boy’s playing to a newborn, an argument for spending Christmas alone, and Santa’s incel reindeer to name a few.


Oswalt is evidently in the earlier stages of this tour, working out new bits (some killing, some dying), taking risks, and dipping into the barrel of Old Material. This is an important part of the stand-up’s process, one which will undoubtedly lead to another Grammy-nominated album and a lauded Netflix special. He is one of the best in the business and we were lucky to get to see the early stages. Though not a perfect night, I have my eyes peeled for his next Raleigh visit. I plan to be in the room to see a master at work.


Photo courtesy of Bob Nocek Presents.

more info

Lady Misrule ★★1/2

image82

Tiny Engine Theatre

Walltown Children’s Theatre

DURHAM, NC

December 7 - December 15, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

December 9, 2018


RATING: 2.5 stars (out of 5)


Tiny Engine Theatre is back after a two-year hiatus. Since its exemplary staging of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 in 2016 I have longed for the small company’s return. 


After a world premiere at Virginia Theological Seminary in November, the company brings its first original play, Lady Misrule, back home to Durham. A frequent renter of the late great Common Ground Theatre, Tiny Engine is presenting its latest work at Durham’s Walltown Children’s Theatre. Written and directed by Tiny Engine co-founder Paul Sapp, this “Christmas Noir” follows a bereaved father on his journey to the North Pole as he attempts to unravel the mystery of his daughter’s death.


The nine-member company includes a trio (the “Elfsemble”) responsible for populating the play’s universe with supporting characters. A dynamic Emily Levinstone stands out, differentiating her many characters quite successfully, with support from costume designer Erin M. West. Nick Popio proves an amusing one-person circus while Jessica Fleming is in charge of subtlety. 


Faye Goodwin makes adequate use Walltown’s expansive and deep stage with simple but clear scenic elements. Sadly, much of the staging feels miles away from the audience.

Noelle Barnard Azarelo struts aggressively across that open space as venomous elf Kiki. Unlike most, Azarelo embraces the absurdity of the play and leans-in. Nearly as brazen are Laurel Ullman as the commanding Connie and Kurt Benrud as an unsettingly un-jolly ole’ Saint Nick. David Berberian tackles the wide emotional range of the grieving, addled Stephen Wurth.


The play works best when focusing on character relationships in lengthier dialogue scenes. Unfortunately Sapp interrupts his own work every couple of minutes with a pace-destroying scenic transition that could be avoided with more efficient staging. Stage manager Claire King certainly stays on her toes.


The web of plots, subplots, and sideplots are as tangled as a wad of Christmas lights that never quite get straightened out. It is Sapp's revised Christmas mythology that really draws us in and should be the play's core, but his twists on tradition are more decorative than integral. Judson Hurd’s sound effects do most of the heavy lifting in regard to establishing locale, with some support from Erin Bell’s lighting, which puts Walltown’s limited grid to good use. 


But even with indefatigable actors and resourceful designers the production struggles to soar, weighed down by a puzzle-like script with too many pieces missing. Though decidedly unique and sufficiently intriguing, from top to bottom we struggle to figure out what this play is. Too goofy for noir, too and too dark for comedy, an obviously capable writer-director is flirts with a story but never asks it to dance. 


Photo by Erin Bell/Bull City Photography.

info & tickets

The Weir ★★★

image83

Burning Coal Theatre Company

Murphey School Auditorium

RALEIGH, NC

November 29 - December 16, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

December 7, 2018


RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)


Irish playwright Conor McPherson (Shining City, The Seafarer, The Night Alive) enjoys haunting his characters, routinely tormenting them with ex-lovers, absent friends, and actual ghosts. 1997’s The Weir is no exception. In a warm pub, safe from icy winds, a quintet of mysterious characters drink many a pint and tell many a story of spirits, fairies, and rat-a-tat-tatting on cottage window sills. 


Elizabeth Newton’s parade of alcoholic paraphernalia populates Tom Burch’s set, supported by the detailed artistry of Meredith Riggan and bestrewn with Irish heritage (e.g. a Guinness mirror, a pair of soccer jerseys, and a framed photograph of JFK). Chris Popowich indicates emotional shifts with effective, if sometimes heavy handed, lighting transitions. 


The play is at its most successful when director Jerome Davis embraces stillness. In a monologue-heavy play in an intimate space, the human face is the doorway to the story. Too much running about prevents us from connecting with those faces as often as we should. 

Though well-performed, McPherson’s characters lack dimension and keep a canyon-wide emotional distance between each other and--unfortunately--the audience.


A gregarious Simon Kaplan gives the production the majority of its energy. He must have a stiff spine to carry this play on his back for three weeks. There is little David Dossey can do with a character as unstimulating as Finbar, but Jordan Wolfe has an easy time with lovable barman Brendan.


McPherson hides his hand for far too long, saving anything remotely engaging for the play’s final quarter: stories from Lucius Robinson’s fascinatingly stoic Jim and Emily Rieder’s honest and understated Valerie. We hang on their words as the characters speak comparatively little in the play. This pair of monologues are tightly written and their delivery is well-controlled and eerily still. We hang on these words like no others in the 90 minute piece. But just when McPherson gets some plates spinning, he wanders off--ending the play just moments after if finally began. 


Photo by David Rauch.

info & tickets

Cinderella

image84

A Mom & Son Review

Raleigh Little Theatre 

Cantey V. Sutton Theatre

RALEIGH, NC

November 30 - December 16, 2018


by Rachel Kasten & Emory Kasten

December 3, 2018


The Mom & Son Rating System:

  • Thumbs Up 👍
  • Shrug 🤷‍
  • Thumbs Down 👎

Mom Says: THUMBS UP 👍


Do you believe in fairies? Before you answer, you may want to see Raleigh Little Theatre’s latest incarnation of Cinderella. This update to the classic fairy tale was packed with enough talent, music, humor, and lush costumes and scenery to transport the whole family to the royal ball.


The Fairy Godmother, known as FG, plays a much larger role in this version, which allows us to spend time with the Fairy Helpers, played by the entertaining duo of Chelsea Cullen and Miranda Millang-Valdivia. The Helpers had some of the best dialogue in the show, including an extremely relatable attempt to meet Hermione Granger.

When FG herself, Lauren Bamford, waves her wand, you believe she’s been practicing magic her whole life. Bamford has a commanding presence that served the show well. Her singing is powerful and confident, though the ambitious choreography in “Hi Diddle Dee” may have been a bit too much for the breath control of any experienced performer. I would have loved to see Bamford gifted a song that really let her belt, or at least to duet with Lauren Knott’s Cinderella.


Knott brought a steadiness and confidence to Cinderella that is rarely seen. Her voice is lovely, but Music Director Joanna Li’s “What’s to Become of Me?” wasn’t the best vehicle for it. The script gave her a couple of opportunities to stand up for herself, but it should have allowed her to tell more of her own story, rather than relying on exposition through FG and the Helpers.


Cinderella and Prince Charming have a memorable meet-cute, bonding over a fantasy trilogy at a book cart. Unfortunately, Lauren Knott and Christian Mucci (Prince Charming) lack any chemistry at all. Mucci has all of the ingredients to be a capable performer, but a more mature actor was sorely needed here. Charming’s father, the nearly-blind King Darling III, was played gamely by TJ Rogers, who seemed much more comfortable when he was interacting directly with the audience.


The true breakout star of the show was Elizabeth M. Quesada’s Stepmother. From the moment her New Yawk accent filled the room, she commanded the stage. Quesada was gifted with the best costume in a show full of Vicki Olson’s beautifully detailed gowns - velvet leopard print has never looked so good - with an open skirt and leggings that let her infuse the character with a hilariously over-the-top sensuality. However, I question the timeliness of the choice to make the gold-digging villain of the show in the image of a famously Jewish character, Fran Drescher’s The Nanny, Yiddish and all. The optics of the Jewish evil doer who just might ruin Christmas is, well, not great.


The show’s musical highlight was “At Christmas Be Merry,” thanks to Jess Barbour’s professional-looking choreography and a strong ensemble. At times, it seemed the stage was too full, which hindered the cast’s ability to move fully. My eye was particularly drawn to the magnetic Charleigh Smith, who has mastered the art of silent reactions in group scenes.


There were a few opening weekend technical missteps: Several sound cues were late, and the cast badly needed to be mic’d, even in RLT’s small auditorium. The projector briefly sported a computer error message. Props were left waiting in the wings and still visible from the audience. Some of the men’s makeup at the ball was overdone to the point that it made the stepsisters almost look normal.


None of these things took away from the illusion of true fairy magic, however. The cast did a wonderful job pulling off FG’s “freezing” effect. Thomas Mauney’s sets were a storybook come to life, and scene changes were effortless, especially the magical transition from Cinderella’s house to her garden. Cinderella's instantaneous gown transformation had the children in the audience appropriately hoodwinked. Unless it was real magic, after all…


Since the show is sure to repeated next year, I humbly suggest retiring Timothy Cherry and M. Dennis Poole as the stepsisters and finding humor in the characters of Gertrude and Henrietta beyond “men in dresses are funny.” There was also a glaring lack of diversity in the main cast. Still, Mike McGee did strong work all-around in his Cinderella directing debut, and I hope he returns to the helm next year. My family will certainly be back to see it.


- Rachel Kasten, mom


Son Says: THUMBS UP 👍


Even before the show started, I thought the pictures on the screen were cool. I call the pumpkin carriage the “marriage carriage,” because I already know that Cinderella and the Prince get married at the end. There was a big clock above the stage, and sometimes it changed into other things. When they are in the throne room, the clock changes to a crown with hearts and once it looked like spinning gears. I really liked that.


This show had real magic, and I want to find out how they did it! Everything the Fairy Godmother did was amazing. When she waved her magic wand, there were lights and sounds. She could make people freeze and play tricks on them. But the best magic she did was when she waved her wand and used actual magic to change Cinderella’s dress. How did the Fairy Godmother learn real magic? Maybe when it was dark, Cinderella turned her dress inside out. I want to ask them how to do it.


I liked so many things, so here are some of them:


  • The song the stepmother and stepsisters sang about the ball (“At The Ball”) was fun.

  • The mice puppets! Inside Cinderella’s house, there were the cutest mice that were hand puppets. Another favorite part was when they turned into horses. Right on stage! They put down their puppets and *poof* they had really cool horse heads and costumes. Then they sang “Mousepony Song.” I would want to play a horse, and because they were kids, I could even do it next year.

  • When the Fairy Godmother used magic to go from Cinderella’s house to outside in the garden. They didn’t just walk outside. The whole house moved away. There was a pumpkin, and the lights flashed, and there was a carriage on stage! How did they even change that? The carriage was so pretty.

  • I liked watching the Prince and Cinderella sing “Best of All” together. They love each other. I also liked that Cinderella could disguise herself so that her stepmother and stepsisters couldn’t recognize her.

  • We got to pretend to sneeze during the ball.

  • The Prince and the King came out into the audience to try the glass slipper on people. Not everybody though, just little girls. That was so cute. I’m glad they didn’t try the slipper on me, because I didn’t want to take my socks off. It was also hilarious when the Prince tried the slipper on the stepsisters.

The only thing I didn’t like was that they made the King so he couldn’t see. The guards had to push him around. I wouldn’t like that if it was me, because pushing isn’t nice. Also, he had two guards AND two pages. That seems like a lot. Why does he need so many people?


I was really surprised because, before the show started, I thought I’d give it a thumbs down or a shrug. But I definitely give it a thumbs up. It’s not my favorite show I’ve ever seen because it wasn’t hilarious, but I would see it again if I could.


- Emory Kasten, son


Photo by Rachel Kasten.

info & tickets

Aladdin and His Winter Wish

image85

A Mom & Son Review

North Carolina Theatre Presents Lythgoe Family Panto

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

RALEIGH, NC

November 29 - December 2, 2018


by Rachel Kasten & Emory Kasten

December 1, 2018


The Mom & Son Rating System:

  • Thumbs Up 👍
  • Shrug 🤷‍
  • Thumbs Down 👎

Mom Says: SHRUG 🤷‍


Walking into Duke Energy Center for the matinee of Aladdin and His Winter Wish made one thing clear: this show is not for theatre snobs. Giddy children in plastic tiaras made popsicle stick reindeer in the lobby, while Christmas music blared over the speakers in the theatre. The audience practiced cheering and booing, led by NC Theatre CEO Elizabeth Doran wearing a hot pink evening gown. An energetic Jonathan Meza, MVP of this hardworking cast, played MC throughout.


The show opened inexplicably with a Bollywood number set to “Jai Ho.” While the song perhaps fits thematically with the rags-to-riches story due to its association with Slumdog Millionaire, it also established early on that the setting wasn’t so much Arabian peninsula as the entire Asian continent (there was also a slightly macabre scene involving a sarcophagus, so your guess of the exact setting is as good as mine).


Aladdin and His Winter Wish is essentially a Disney theme park stage show on magic mushrooms. It is filled with impressive talent and many “wow” special effect moments but probably won’t leave a lasting impression. Mario Mosley’s choreography was exciting and made great use of a talented ensemble of adults and teens. Special shoutouts go to the acrobatic Eric Dawkins as well as Joshua Messmore, a standout talent in the kids ensemble. 


Lighting designer Chris Wilcox clearly had a blast with this production and did a nice job separating Abanazar’s hypnotic asides with the Sultan. The story has been updated by Kris Lythgoe with references to Snapchat, March Madness, and an enjoyable bit with a Bird scooter, but it is glaringly old-school when it comes to gender equity. Far too much of the show took place without a single woman on stage (no, Jeff Sumner’s Edna Turnblad-esque Widow Twankey doesn’t count), and the female characters lack agency so completely that none of them even have names.


This Dance Moms fan was excited to see Nia Sioux as the Princess (See? No name!), but even with nothing to do but get shuffled between her father and her suitors, Sioux was an obvious weak link. Her acting and singing were both subpar (her one solo song, Ariana Grande’s “The Way,” made me grateful that I could barely hear her vocals), and the show didn’t utilize her dancing talents. By contrast, Vanessa Nichole’s Spirit of the Ring exuded power and charisma even though the role limited her to being ordered around by her Master, the villain Abanazar.


Josh Adamson’s Abanazar was electric every time he took the stage. His big solo, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” was unexpectedly gorgeous. Ty Taylor (Genie) deserves a star vehicle, or at least to be immediately cast as Donkey in the next production of Shrek. We only got a hint of his singing chops here, but I would have watched an hour of him singing and dancing with Jason Gotay (Aladdin). This is Gotay’s third time bringing an animated prince to the stage (The Little Mermaid and The Prince of Egypt), and the thing is: he’s too good for this. Get this man back to Broadway as soon as possible. Gotay’s chemistry with Jonathan Meza (Aladdin’s brother, Wishee Washee) was also enjoyable.


I would be remiss not to at least mention the other of bit of stunt casting of Barry Pearl (Grease) as the Sultan. The many Grease references certainly didn’t mean anything to the children and the audience, and most of their parents are too young to care. Worse though is that Pearl struggled to remember his lines and generally phoned in the role.


The production was plagued with sound issues. The orchestra frequently overpowered even the most experienced vocalists, and the microphones often made the actors sound hollow, surprising in a professional production. However, the visuals were stunning and the content is non-objectionable (other than an unnecessary “joke” about schizophrenia). The musical numbers are fun, the actors are game, and the children in the audience were enthralled. If you go, just know that the show is for them more than it is for you. Perhaps I’m just too much of a theatre snob to appreciate it.


- Rachel Kasten, mom


Son Says: THUMBS UP 👍


I wish the show hadn’t started with Christmas music because it was annoying. The first Act was kind of boring, and I really wish that Aladdin had a monkey like in the Disney movie. The only animals in the whole show were two camel puppets who were onstage for just a minute. So my advice is more animals! I liked the scene in the Cave of Wonder, especially the way the lights and the sound made it seem like the cave was opening and closing. I didn’t like that they kept threatening to behead people.


The magic carpet scene was amazing. It really looked like there were stars in the sky and the carpet was flying through the air. I can’t believe they made it snow in the audience at the end of the show either. That was so cool! I’m glad that Abanazar became good at the end instead of dying. That way, no one died in the show. Abanazar and the Genie both made jokes about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, too. My favorite character was Aladdin because he was brave, handsome, and had a great voice. I also loved Wishee Washee because he was funny. He went inside a washing machine and shrunk, he shook his butt a lot, and he told jokes.

You should go see Aladdin and His Winter Wish because it has a lot of great actors and singers with nice costumes. It will make you laugh, and you get to shout “boo” at the bad guys as loud as you can. My mom never lets me scream like that, so it was pretty special.


- Emory Kasten, son


Photo by Rachel Kasten.

info & tickets

Looking for More?

Visit the Performing Arts Archives

click here

Meet the Staff

Dustin K. Britt, Managing Editor

Photograph of editor Dustin K. Britt. Smiling at the camera with glasses and short blond hair.

Dustin K. Britt, a North Carolina native, is a performer, theatre instructor and freelance writer. He has worked in the theatre for more than 20 years and holds a Master of Arts in Education from East Carolina University. Dustin covers concerts, dance, comedy, and theatre in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Cary, Raleigh, Durham, Pittsboro, and Apex. His writing has appeared in IndyWeek, Carolina Parent Magazine, Pedal Fuzz, and Triangle Arts & Entertainment.  You can find him on Twitter or Instagram @dkbritt85

Rachel & Emory Kasten, Writers

image86

Rachel Kasten, a North Carolina resident, believes that access to live theatre strengthens communities. She is happy to be back home in Raleigh after a whirlwind decade of living and performing in Ohio, Florida, and British Columbia. She was a professional background actor for 7 months in Vancouver and thinks it’s an experience everyone should have, but only once, and not in the snow. Although she has been frequently typecast as a witch or wicked stepmother (Cinderella, Macbeth, Into the Woods, Shrek...seriously, a lot of witches), she actually thinks she’s an okay mom. Most recently, Rachel discovered that she enjoys producing even more than being on stage, when she produced These Shining Lives for the Women’s Theatre Festival. Outside of theatre, she serves as a Graduate Program Coordinator at N.C. State and is an active participant in dismantling white supremacy. Rachel is looking forward to sharing something she loves with the person she loves the most.


Emory Kasten, Rachel's son, is 6 years old and in 1st grade. He loves musicals because they have singing and dancing, which are two of his favorite things. He takes jazz and tumbling at Triangle Academy of Dance so that he can perform in Newsies someday. Emory is also a proud Cub Scout. His favorite show is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat because it’s weird, colorful, and silly, like him. Emory wants to see more plays because sometimes they’re really funny.
P.S. He wants everyone to know that his favorite animal is the red fox. 

Meet the "Mom & Son" Review Team

Rachel Kasten & Emory Kasten

Rachel and Emory will be sharing a very unique perspective on the performing arts: that of a mother and son! Team Kasten will be providing critiques and feature articles on family-friendly and youth-related arts in Chatham County and beyond!


A little bit about the dynamic duo:


Rachel Kasten believes that access to live theatre strengthens communities. She is happy to be back home in Raleigh after a whirlwind decade of living and performing in Ohio, Florida, and British Columbia. She was a professional background actor for 7 months in Vancouver and thinks it’s an experience everyone should have, but only once, and not in the snow. Although she has been frequently typecast as a witch or wicked stepmother (Cinderella, Macbeth, Into the Woods, Shrek...seriously, a lot of witches), she actually thinks she’s an okay mom.


Most recently, Rachel discovered that she enjoys producing even more than being on stage, when she produced These Shining Lives for the Women’s Theatre Festival. Outside of theatre, she serves as a Graduate Program Coordinator at N.C. State and is an active participant in dismantling white supremacy. Rachel is looking forward to sharing something she loves with the person she loves the most.


Emory Kasten is 6 years old and in 1st grade. Emory loves musicals because they have singing and dancing, which are two of his favorite things. He takes jazz and tumbling at Triangle Academy of Dance so that he can perform in Newsies someday. Emory is also a proud Cub Scout. His favorite show is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat because it’s weird, colorful, and silly, like him. Emory wants to see more plays because sometimes they’re really funny. P.S. He wants everyone to know that his favorite animal is the red fox.

image87