Tag Archives: theater

Theater Tales: ‘Book of Mormon,’ ‘Fun Home’ Storytelling Lessons

Book-of-Mormon-690x310fun_homeStorytelling thoughts from a recent trip to New York, where I caught a couple of master classes about character, point of view and theme on Broadway — both with some great songs, too.

“Book of Mormon” and “Fun Home” aren’t just Tony-winning musicals. They’re both fascinating examples of art that’s about art – in this case, writing about writing.

In “Mormon,” a young missionary has to wing it when Africans ask to hear the story of his religion’s, uhm, genesis. It’s funny and profane and super-tuneful – and his impromptu take on the meaning of life unexpectedly proves as inspiring as any version any believer could hope for.

With “Fun Home,” a woman looks back on her troubled father and, through her cartooning and writing, tries to make sense of her family chaos.

Both shows reveal themselves to be about the power of storytelling – how we all create or consume art to make sense of things we can’t understand. You laugh at “Mormon” and get goosebumps at “Fun Home.”

Walking around the Theater District, I couldn’t miss ads for “Wicked,” another musical about storytelling — about looking at one of the most famous characters of all time from a different point of view.


Oh, she’s wicked, all right. And that’s enough for me.

I’ve never wanted to see it because, to me, the Wicked Witch of the West neither has nor needs a back story. She is evil, pure and simple. She wants to kill Dorothy to get the ruby slippers so she can rule Oz. That’s it.

Still, back in Atlanta, I saw the Alliance Theater’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and wondered what that tale  would look like from Nurse Ratched’s point of view.

Call me crazy.

All this reached its apex when I saw “Stupid F—ing Bird” at Actor’s Express in Atlanta’s West Midtown.


A scene from “Stupid F—ing Bird” at Actor’s Express

Theater folk can tell you it’s an update of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” I can tell you it poses interesting questions about art and how much is too much – even whether we’d all be better off under a 100-year moratorium on the stuff.

“Bird” takes the self-gazing one step further, into meta-fiction. Characters address the audience and talk about the play they’re in. It’s amusing, maybe insightful, definitely an attempt to goose theatrical devices.

Turns out I didn’t have to fly to New York to find that.

And this is all good fodder for anyone writing anything. What’s a story? What material is presented? From whose point of view?

As communicators, what do we want the audience to feel, think or do?

Curtain up.

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PHOTO TOUR: Neglected Theater Gets a Loving — and Fabulous — Rebirth

Before: Faded. Today: Happy.

Before: Faded. Today: Happy. Photo gallery below.

For movie lovers, there’s nothing sadder than an old, abandoned theater – and nothing as glorious as a fabulously restored one.

For a perfect example, look to Lebanon, Tenn., a small town about 30 miles east of Nashville and its Capitol Theatre.

I’ve been visiting Lebanon my whole life, since first my aunt and uncle and now my mother and step-father live there. And even as a kid, I was struck by The Capitol’s faded, forgotten beauty. It reminded me of “The Last Picture Show,” and I longed for someone to see its potential and resurrect it, despite the changes brought by multiplexes and home video.

Now Pam and Bob Black have done just that.

They gave me a tour on Friday, and what a great day-after-Christmas present.

Old Hollywood and On

The Capitol opened with fanfare and a Betty Grable picture in 1949, steps from the Town Square. Like everything else in the South, the theater was segregated, so black people had to sit upstairs. After The Capitol closed in 1981, it came to symbolize the fading core of the town as Wal-Mart and chain restaurants took most of the business closer to I-40 a couple of miles away.

Lebanon, Tennessee, Capitol Theatre, Theater, small town, movies, plays, concerts, venue, wedding receptions, Betty Grable, old movies

Pam and Bob Black in the lobby of their labor of love.

Then, Pam and Bob bought The Capitol and, in 2011, began their meticulous, loving restoration and improvement.

“We felt there was a need to keep it alive,” Bob said. “We heard that someone was going to tear it down, and we couldn’t possibly think of that happening.”

Open since summer 2013, it’s beautiful inside, with original and new Art Deco features; state-of-the-art projection for classic movies; first-class acoustics for live music; and flexibility to host receptions and community events.

The auditorium in another before-and-after

The auditorium in another before-and-after

It’s no insult to the rest of Lebanon to say there’s nothing like The Capitol in town – or probably anywhere in the area until you get to Music City.

Like a Mini-Fox in Atlanta

Now it reminds me of a smaller version of The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. And I hope Pam and Bob find success with concerts like the Variety Playhouse and others in Atlanta – or the Franklin Theatre just south of Nashville. There’s a magic to places like The Capitol that new projects can’t match.

“We try to use it as an avenue for local events,” Bob said. “There’s really no place around where we can do weddings, corporate events, live music, musical theater, dinner theater… we can try and do about everything that there is. We’re very excited about the acceptance that we’ve had in town.”

In recent years, trendy boutiques have popped up on The Square next to ancient shops selling antiques. And The Square itself is currently getting a facelift.

It’s not too much to hope The Capitol will encourage future redevelopment and vitality in Lebanon. Some high-profile concerts, a smart series of movies, a packed calendar of weddings, class reunions and the like?

Just take a look. (Click on a picture to enlarge it. Mouse over to see caption.)


What I Learned from 3 Musicians in Their Underwear

The Skivvies, Atlanta, Westside Cultural Arts Center, West Midtown, Chappuis, Fay Gold, art gallery, Actor's Express, Broadway Bares, musicians playing almost naked

In Atlanta Saturday night. Yes, they did “It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here.”

So there we were Saturday night, watching a buff young man in nothing but tiny briefs and a curvaceous blonde woman wearing only a Victoria’s Secret bra and panties. He was singing “Love to Love You, Baby” and playing the glockenspiel while she accompanied him on the cello.

This was sometime after the Rhianna tune but before the Carole King number.

Just another fund-raiser in Atlanta? Or a chance to see three essential truths of communications and business brought together by two hot, young Broadway performers who sing and play their barely covered butts off?

The Skivvies, Atlanta, Westside Cultural Arts Center, West Midtown, Chappuis, Fay Gold, art gallery, Actor's Express, Broadway Bares, musicians playing almost naked

In People magazine

They call themselves The Skivvies. From their website:

The Skivvies are Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley, award-winning NYC singer/actor/musicians performing stripped down arrangements of eclectic covers and eccentric originals. Not only is the music stripped down – cello, ukulele, glockenspiel, melodica – but the Skivvies literally strip down to their underwear to perform. The Wall Street Journal calls them “smart, sophisticated…ingenious,” and Out Magazine says, “The Skivvies have managed to carve out a niche that we never knew needed to exist: part Weird Al-parody and part sexy burlesque…and unusual explosion of satire and sultry.”

The duo (along with a percussionist — older, rounder, in boxer shorts) played a benefit for Actor’s Express at the Westside Cultural Arts Center in West Midtown. In other words, an audience used to a high level of performing excellence. And the group delivered so well and definitively that you had to wonder: What’s up with the underwear thing?

And that’s where we get to the three lessons I mentioned before.

  1. Sex sells. No kidding, right? Because who would pay to watch a couple of unattractive Broadway babies in their drawers?
  2. You Gotta Have a Gimmick if you wanna get a hand. Says so in a showtune, right?
  3. Build your brand. “The Skivvies” brand covers the gimmick and the music, and it’s cute and memorable and gently naughty, like the act itself.

There might be a fourth lesson, as well. The Skivvies play fast – mashing up songs, sometimes playing just enough for the audience to recognize one before zipping off to another, usually connected by a theme (generally sexual, some unprintable). A friend pointed out the lesson for today’s communicators and marketers: Don’t take too long. Nobody has time or the attention span. Hit the high note, flash the abs and move on fast.

OK, a fifth lesson: Get back to Pilates.


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Re-telling a Classic Story in Sexy Style at Atlanta’s Actor’s Express

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Actor's Express, Atlanta, theater, Dangerous Liaisons

At Actor’s Express in Atlanta

I saw a play Saturday night in Atlanta, the premiere of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at Actor’s Express. It’s a rockin’ good time for the most part, but what struck me most is that this story has been told so many times in so many ways — and it’s still just as juicy.

The tale of sexual politics, cruelty and manipulation set in pre-revolution France started as a novel in 1782. It then became a play and an Oscar-winning movie, “Dangerous Liaisons,” and then another big-time movie, “Valmont,” by an Oscar-winning director. And there was even a teen knockoff in the ’90s called “Cruel Intentions,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and a very young Reese Witherspoon.

Rich, mean, sexy people doing nasty things to each other and the innocents around them… juicy dialog ripe for actors to tear into… What’s not to love? Did “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” set the template for soap operas? Maybe not, but it’s easy to see why storytellers in various media keep going back to it, and Actor’s Express handles it admirably. So go and have a fun time at the theater.

Or at least join me in renting “Dangerous Liaisons,” which I haven’t seen in ages.

While I was at the show, I missed the Atlanta BeltLine’s Lantern Parade. I would’ve gone otherwise and I’m sorry I missed it. But here is a great roundup from the great Maria Saporta that does what I would’ve tried to do, but lots better.

And while we’re sharing cool blog posts about cool weekend events in Atlanta, check out this nifty replay in GIFs of the Falcons nail-biter over the Saints from Breslanta.com.

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How I Met My 5 Favorite Endings — POLL, VIDEOS

A lot of TV viewers were angry about the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother” this week. After nine seasons, the hero finally met the mother of his children… but then she died and he ended up with the girlfriend he started out with, another of the series regulars.

I watched the finale and didn’t care for it, but since I’d only been an occasional watcher of “Mother” over the years, it didn’t mean anything to me. But it got me thinking about the endings of stories, good and bad. What makes a satisfying ending? Is an ending just a stopping point? Is it a thematic conclusion? A full-on blowout of a finale? And should the storyteller know his ending before he starts writing, or does he just stumble upon it?

A story’s end should feel organic, but not necessarily predictable — like, now that you know it, that’s the only way it could have happened. It should enrich the story’s themes without becoming didactic, and it should use the tools and limits of its medium (TV, movie, stage, newspaper, blog … whatever).

Here, then, are five of my favorite endings. Let me know some of yours!

1. Movies: “The Godfather” — When Michael Corleone’s henchman closes the door on his wife’s sad face, it’s perfect in every way — dramatically, emotionally, cinematically. Michael gains power but loses his soul as he becomes godfather of his family’s crime empire, like his father before him. It happens quickly, after a long, excruciating confrontation. The credits pop up, boom you’re done — breathless and thrilled and completely satisfied with the epic tale you’ve just been told.

2. Theater: “A Chorus Line” — The story ends when half the characters lose their shot at a job on Broadway. But then they all return, one after the other, winners and rejects alike — in shimmering gold tuxedos to sing and dance that dazzling finale, “One.” The razzle dazzle delivers on the show’s themes thrillingly, in ways that only live theater can. (Forget the movie version.) I’ve seen the show a half-dozen times. Goosebumps every time.

3. Novels: “On the Road” — This is best read when you’re young, perhaps. But the romance of Jack Kerouac’s lumbering, searching, self-conscious final lines seduced and slayed me then and moves me still.

On-the-RoadSo in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

4. TV Dramas: “Six Feet Under” — I stopped watching a few years before the HBO show about a family of morticians finally wrapped, but the last 10 minutes left me blubbering uncontrollably. It was a mournful montage that flash-forwarded to reveal how all the characters eventually died. My tears were earned.

 5. TV Comedies: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — This is a great one because it stayed true to the loving, gentle, hilarious tone of the beloved ’70s sitcom about a TV newsroom and the titular leading lady at its core. It was big-hearted, smart smart smart, funny and, yes, sad, too — without trying to be clever or flipping its premise inside-out or upside-down or whatever “How I Met Your Mother” did this week. The TV station’s new owners fire everybody but nincompoop anchor Ted Baxter, and the gang has to scatter to new jobs? Of course. Of course. But first, a song, a tear and a great group hug.