Rivertown Theaters announces 2016-2017 season

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts announces its upcoming seasons with all the “Let’s put on a show!” brio you’d come to expect from the most consistently popular producer of Broadway musicals. And so it was with Tony Award-ceremony grandeur, once again, that the company rolled out its 2016-2107 season Saturday (Jan. 9) with a reception and sneak preview in the venue, complete with co-emcees (and company partners) Gary Rucker and Kelly Fouchi, songs from upcoming shows, and a sneak preview of the upcoming “Sweet Charity.”

It will be the company’s fifth season. For more info, call  504-461-9475 or 504.468.7221 or visit rivertowntheaters.com.

“How do you top last year’s most ambitious season of all musicals? You raise the bar again by presenting a season filled with different, unique, yet challenging and spectacular offerings to appeal to our extremely loyal and appreciative audiences who have supported, cheered us on, and grown with us over the past years,” Fouchi, co-artistic/managing director, said in a press release. “… We are thrilled with the support and response that we have received for each season’s offerings. Topping the ‘best of’ lists, each of the shows last year played to sold out houses and enthusiastic audiences.

“Our goal is to continue to present audiences with productions that are full of high entertainment value featuring some of the area’s most talented performers.”

Rivertown Theaters’ upcoming season will see the following productions: “Let the Good Times Roll” (Sept. 9-25) another musical jukebox from the Big Easy Buddies (“Under the Boardwalk”); “1776” (Nov. 4-20), the 1969 Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone musical about the founding of a nation; “Billy Elliot the Musical” (Jan. 13-29), Elton John’s 2005 adaptation of the the 2000 movie about a boy who dreams of being a dancer; “The 39 Steps” (March 10-26, 2017), Patrick Barlow’s satire of both John Buchan’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller; “Bye Bye Birdie” (May 5-21, 2017), the Michael Stewart-Lee Adams musical send-up of the Elvis Presley mania of the 1950s; and “The Little Mermaid” (July 13-23, 2017) Alan Menken’s 2008 adaptation of the 1989 Disney animated musical blockbuster.

At Saturday’s preview/fundraiser, which included an auction, the company recognized the contributions of “Volunteers of the Year”: Jane Hirling (Kelly Fouchi’s mother) and Kenner City Councilman Keith Reynaud.

Here is a breakdown of those productions, with descriptions provided by Rivertown Theaters:

“Let The Good Times Roll”
Sept. 9-25, 2016
Directed by Rich Arnold

“The Big Easy Buddies are back with an all new show! Since their crowd pleasing, sold out hit show “Under The Boardwalk” here at Rivertown Theaters, patrons continually request that we bring back The Buddies. So here they are kicking off our 2016-2017 season, and bringing their tight harmonies and slick choreography to your favorite doo-wop, Motown and rock ‘n’ roll hits, including classics inspired by the city of New Orleans. ‘The Buddies’ will again be joined by the dazzling ‘Big Easy Babes’ with their nod to the girl groups and diva anthems of the 1950’s and ’60’s. The great American Radio Songbook comes to life in a rollicking musical event that promises all the spectacle, excitement and extraordinary talent our audiences have come to expect. The Times-Picayune says, ‘The non-stop energy the quartet brings to the stage is positively infectious and makes the show a treat not just for those audience members who heard this music originally on jukeboxes at the malt shops. It is a night for the entire family to enjoy.’ ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ will have audiences smiling and singing along, proving that retro never sounded so new!”

Nov. 4-20,2016
Directed by AJ Allegra

“What better time to celebrate the birth of America’s independence than during an election year … and what better way than with a Tony Award winning musical set in 1776? The turning point in American history blazes to vivid life in our November musical offering, ‘1776.’ A funny, insightful and compelling musical with a striking score and legendary book, ‘1776’ puts a human face on the pages of history. We see the men behind the national icons: proud, frightened, uncertain, charming and ultimately noble figures determined to do the right thing for a fledgling nation. Step back in time and be inspired by our founding fathers as they attempt to convince Congress to vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarch by signing the Declaration of Independence. This uplifting musical will have you beaming with pride and patriotism.”

“Billy Elliot, the Musical”
Jan. 13-29, 2017
Directed by Kelly Fouchi

“Millions of fans … Thousands of standing ovations … 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical … this is ‘Billy Elliot The Musical,’ the spectacular show with the heart, humor and passion named Time Magazine’s “Best Musical of the Decade!” Based on the international smash-hit film and featuring a score by music legend Elton John, ‘Billy Elliot’ is an astonishing theatrical experience that will stay with you forever. Set in a northern English mining town, against the background of the 1984 miners’ strike, ‘Billy Elliot’ is the inspirational story of a young boy’s struggle against the odds to make his dream come true. Follow Billy’s journey as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family and community and changes his life forever. Join us for this powerful story that has captivated audiences around the world. Contains adult language, PG-13.”

“The 39 Steps”
March 10-26, 2017
Directed by Ricky Graham

“This two-time Tony Award winner is currently enjoying a second run on Broadway and is in its 10th year of performances in London’s West End. The 39 Steps is a comedic spoof of the classic 1935 Hitchcock film, with only four actors portraying more than 150 characters, sometimes changing roles in the blink of an eye. The brilliantly madcap and gripping comedy thriller follows our dashing hero Richard Hannay, as he races to solve the mystery of ‘The 39 Steps,’ all the while trying to clear his name! This ‘whodunit, part espionage thriller and part slapstick comedy’ is great fun for everyone from 9 to 99. The show’s uproarious fast pace promises to leave you gasping for breath … in a good way!”

“Bye Bye Birdie”
May 5-21, 2017
Directed by Gary Rucker

“Before Beatlemania, before Beiber Fever, came hip-swingin’ teen idol Conrad Birdie (loosely based on Elvis), who, to the dismay of his adoring fans, is about to be drafted into the army by Uncle Sam. In Bye Bye Birdie, the 1950’s rock-n-roll musical comedy, Birdie’s agent, Albert and his secretary/girlfriend, Rosie, cook up a plan to send him off in style. They must write Birdie a new hit song and have him bestow “one last kiss” on a lucky fan, live on the Ed Sullivan Show. A town full of colorful characters including crazed teenagers, a jealous boyfriend, and a spotlight stealing father make for a rollicking good time. In addition to the popular silver screen adaptation starring Ann Margaret, Bye Bye Birdie is a Tony Award winner for Best Musical and features such beloved songs as ‘Put on A Happy Face,’ ‘Kids,’ ‘The Telephone Hour’ and ‘A Lot of Livin’ To Do.'”

“The Little Mermaid”
July 13-23, 2017
Directed by Ricky Graham

“Based on the Disney animated film, the hit Broadway musical, and one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. In a magical kingdom fathoms below, we meet Ariel, the little mermaid who is tired of flipping her fins and longs to be part of the fascinating world on dry land. Joining her are Sebastian, Ariel’s crabby sidekick; Ursula, the evil sea witch; Triton, King of the Sea and the handsome and human Prince Eric. Dive on in! Life is the bubbles, under the sea! Reserve the best seats early for your little guppies, our summer family shows sell out quick!”

How Michael Cerveris, Tony winner, played for his rock ’n’ roll lifestyle

New Orleanians finally got a chance to see Michael Cerveris live and in person after the Treme resident had won the Tony Award (and continues to perform in) the musical “Fun Home,” with an appearance at the Broadway @ NOCCA series on Monday (Dec. 14) night. It was a laid-back, casual affair with Cerveris swapping stories with Seth Rudetsky in between performing songs from his vast two-decade career (with Rudetsky accompanying on piano).

Some of the stories he relayed also were referenced in an interview I conducted for my advance feature that ran in the New Orleans Advocate, which didn’t do justice for a facet of Cerveris’ career that deserves fuller explanation: his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. It’s a life that, professionally speaking, started awkwardly enough playing a British wannabe rocker in the last season (1987) of the TV show “Fame,” but six years later kicked into high gear when he scored the title role of “Tommy” (which earned him a Tony Award nomination in this, his Broadway debut.

This is the first of a few crazy, rocking moments in this Broadway star’s life, which include playing as a sideman on indie rocker Bob Mould’s U.S. tour (and the U.K. leg of the European tour) in 1998, his replacing friend John Cameron Mitchell in Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” cranking out his own solo album, “Dog Eared,” in 2004, and his current side group Loose Cattle (based in New York). When I asked him how he saw these supposedly different lifestyles — the Broadway performer and the rock ‘n’ roller — Cerveris explained their common ground:

I think I’m just someone who is just trying to express himself. Someone might speak English to someone if they speak English because that’s how they understand it best. Or Spanish if the person listening is Spanish. In the same way, I guess I think of it as using the language of a particular style or genre to communicate in the way that will translate best to that particular audience, while the basic content remains unchanged. I think my job as actor and singer is to be a vessel for author and their intent. They create the genre they’re working in, and if it’s Pete Townshend, he’s telling it through rock and roll. John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, it’s though glam rock. Yet I kind of feel like I’m still saying the things I’m saying, it’s just translated through different things. I feel like my approach is kind of rock and roll even when I’m singing something more legit. I told Stephen Sondheim I think he is a rock-and-roll musical theater person. He looked at me like I had two heads when I said that. But I think that because of the fierceness in his music and the lack of … the disregard for the norm, maybe. Even in rock and roll, you’ve got Poison and Twisted Sister and Joy Division and the Sex Pistols and Pearl Jam and Creed, and they’re all considered rock and roll yet what they do is very different. The simple answer is, I feel like I’m doing the same thing with the same investment, whether singing Sondheim or Townshend. While I completely understand how it sounds and want it to sound authentic to the genre in which the writer is writing it, I don’t think of it as two different things. It’s telling a story and speaking truth on whatever pitches I’m given.

After spending several years working off-Broadway, Cerveris went out to Los Angeles for “Fame,” playing Brit rocker Ian Ware — a role he earned, he notes, partly due to nailing in the audition a version of David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” After its cancellation, he wound up staying for several years — at a fertile time in the L.A. rock scene, while appearing in regional theater all along the Pacific Coast:

Because in Los Angeles, you are what you pretend to be, I went out there playing this British indie-rock guitar player on this TV show, so I was perceived as that. I hung out at the Scream Club and saw a bunch of bands. Jane’s Addiction, Guns ‘N Roses, all these guys were playing in the clubs. I was friends with all these musicians, but I had never taken myself seriously as a musician. I thought a musician was someone like my father, who was trained in classical music, musical theory, the craft. I was just a largely self taught guitar player. I still don’t really read music. But here I was with all these people. And while I was not the best guitar player, I realized I could play as well as that guy over there, and he’s got a four-record deal! So I figured I should stop letting my insecurities get in the way of playing music. L.A. was really kind of where I started becoming a songwriter. I was so lonely and out of synch with my environment. Eventually, five years later, I was in the middle of “Richard II” at the (Mark Taper Forum), starring Kelsey Grammer as Richard II. It was the same time as the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict. I had an audition one afternoon for this production of “Tommy” that someone wanted to do at the La Jolla Playhouse. I played that same David Bowie song and I guess it was lucky for me again. That’s what brought me to “Tommy” and brought me back to New York. During my time out west I did kind of fall off the map in some people’s minds. But that detour was how I wound up where I did. I read this Frank Rich review, wondering where Michael Cerveris had been. Well, I had been in New York for several years and no one seemed all that interested! He had even reviewed me in some off-Broadway things. It seemed like I had appeared out of nowhere. But I had been working for years downtown and in regional theater.

After earning a Tony Award nomination for Tommy, Cerveris signed on play the architect in the musical version of “Titanic,” an experience in which he went into great detail on Monday night, and, in our interview noted, he eventually left to go play rhythm guitar with former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould, “which is also not the usual career move,” he added with a chuckle. And so begins another rock ‘n’ roll odyssey.

While performing in “Tommy,” Cerveris went to go see Bob Mould perform at a club. Pete Townsend, with whom he’d become friends after “Tommy,” was in town and Cerveris convinced him to join him for the show. Once word got to the stage that the legendary Who guitarist was in the audience, Mould invited both of them backstage after the show. (“Bob is a huge Who fan, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone,” he said.) Slowly, Cerveris and Mould became friends, with Mould even sitting in with Cerveris’ band at the time at a show after Mould and his partner had moved to Brooklyn.

Upon completion of his “The Last Dog and Pony Show” album, Mould asked Cerveris if he’d be interested in play rhythm guitar for a European tour, which at first Cerveris took as an off-hand remark but Mould was serious. “‘My music’s not rocket science,’“ Cerveris recalls Mould telling him. “So that’s how that happened.”

Unfortunately, a dream gig soured fairly early on for Cerveris:

I woke up every day on that tour as the happiest guy to be on that stage. But it was a tough tour. He was disconnecting from his label. Had taken it on as an obligation to the label. He became increasingly frustrated. I became the place where a lot of that frustration got placed. He’d never played with a rhythm guitar player with him before. I think he really wanted to go out as a three-piece. I ended up not doing the last couple shows. I did the American and U.K. legs. Then there were two or three dates in Europe that I didn’t do. That was rough for me because all I want to do was make him happy with the way I played. He wasn’t super communicative about what he wanted, but I tried til my last show with him in London (captured on the live CD Bob Mould Band: LiveDog98) to figure it out. After the show, he and the other guys boarded the bus to Paris and I was left in England.

The upside was, he wound up becoming friends with the members of Teenage Fanclub (whose manager once worked with Mould), which led to the making of Cerveris’ solo album, “Dog Eared,’ and which featured appearances by Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub), Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Ken Stringfellow (Posies, R.E.M.), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Kevin March (Guided by Voices), Anders Parker (Varnaline), and Laura Cantrell. This was also around the time Cerveris found himself in the unique position of taking over full time for John Cameron Mitchell in the title role of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” In both the interview and onstage Monday, he recalled how the two of them had would run into each other in the 1990s:

We used to see each other at auditions and stuff because John was an actor. He would always be giving me flyers for this weird drag character he was doing, and I would hand him flyers for whatever band I was trying to get people to see that week. We were doing a workshop about a the band Queen that ultimately became “We Will Rock You.” But back then it was more a biographical musical about the band. John and I were playing the bass player and drummer. And we were basically the bad kids in the back of the class. We were like, “Seriously, you have to teach us to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody?” Like, if we don’t know how to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” already, we really shouldn’t be here. John was getting ready to do “Hedwig” at the Jane Street Theater. And he kept telling me about it and would ask me, “Should I call it a post-glam punk rock musical or the post-punk glam rock musical?” And I was like, I don’t know whatever you’re talk about. But I knew John’s rock interest was sincere.

This was also at the same time “Rent” had become the hippest musical on Broadway, something Cerveris admits to resenting because critics were calling it the first musical to really “get” rock ‘n’ roll right when, just a few years earlier, he believed “Tommy” had already more honestly earned that title. After some avoidance, he says, he broke down and caught the production, partly because some friends were in the cast. It was OK, he recalls, but, “I couldn’t get away from the feeling that I’d enjoy the songs more if I was in a club and some bar band was playing this. They were working really hard to be rock-and-roll-y kind of singers.”

The next night, he saw “Hedwig.”

“I was just blown away,” he said. “ I thought, if I had the wit and skill to write something, this is what I would do.”

Over time, Mitchell admitted to getting tired doing what in many ways was a one-man show, and he turned to Cerveris to fill in for him:

I was simultaneously thrilled and nauseous. I had never done a one person show before. Really, though, you’re not alone. The band and Yitsak make it feel like an ensemble show, even though you have all the lines. But I said yes, because taking on what terrifies me has usually been my way of figuring out what to do. What we all learned to John’s great relief was that other people can do it. I just learned an enormous amount and felt really so at home in the part and in the production and in that weird space downtown. It was like going down to the Salvation Army and putting on some old used suit, and it was like it was tailor made for you. Maybe with a dress and heels, but the same idea.

To help prepare for the production, Cerveris and the band played a New Year’s Eve show (1998) at Radio City Music Hall opening for, of all people, Boy George and Culture Club — in drag and everything.

“We’re playing songs from the show and people seemed a little mystified,” he said. “I always thought that was the way to introduce the show to someone. Wanted to play gigs in London (West End) like we’re some new, undiscovered tranny band.”

For the past four years, Cerveris has played with Loose Cattle, an Americana band in which he shares lead vocals with old friend Kimberly Kaye — who has become the playwright on the musical adaptation of the Katrina book “Nine Lives” (which Cerveris has been helping Paul Sanchez and Kim develop). They just released two new songs, “Pony Girl” — a sort-of outtake from the “Fun Home” soundtrack — and a haunting, sultry version of “St. James Infirmary” with Kaye on lead vocals.

Cerveris isn’t sure when he’ll next be able to herd some iteration of Loose Cattle to New Orleans for a performance — some of the musicians are pretty firmly rooted in New York. But it would be great for local audiences to hear, at some point, live and in person, how Michael Cerveris lives his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Because that is one language we’re only now fully appreciating that he can speak, quite fluently.





Trina Beck on Morticia, “The Addams Family” and being a secret weirdo (podcast)

Trina Beck is, in the words of playwright Jim Fitzmorris, a secret weirdo. But as Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts mounts the Broadway musical “The Addams Family” for its run (through Nov. 22), the secret’s out.

“I’m a Kander & Ebb girl, and they’re shows tend to be darker themed,” she told me before a run-through last week, noting her playing Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” awhile back.

(Related: “The Addams Family” preview in the New Orleans Advocate)

Check out the podcast of the interview, and also check out her top five weirdo countdown, which she’s brought to life for Halloween on occasion as her photos above show.  You can also listen to my podcast interview with Gary Rucker, and watch Madison Kerth rehearse as Wednesday, singing “Pulled.” (Click here for ticket info.)

5. “Woman in Black,” Rivertown Theaters, 2006 — “This was my first show at Rivertown. Gary Rucker and Sean Patterson broke from their usual comedy-duo mold for this super spooky play, which only lists two actors in the program. It was too much fun to lurk backstage in a dark corner and scare the crap out of Gary or Sean when they came offstage.”
4. “Corpse Bride,” Halloween, 2005 — “A new Tim Burton movie was one of the highlights of my post-Katrina life in exile. I also had enough time to make myself this costume.”
3. Lydia Deetz, “Beetlejuice,” Halloween 2013 — “It suddenly dawned on me that I had never done a Beetlejuice costume, and that Lydia would not be tough to pull off. (Next year I’m determined to go as Miss Argentina.)”
2. Sally, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Halloween 2006 — “Things were still pretty slow in NOLA a year after the flood, so I had time to sew this costume completely by hand.”
1. Morticia!

Watch: Madison Kerth as Wednesday rehearses “Pulled” for Rivertown Theaters’ “The Addams Family”

Madison Kerth as Wednesday performs "Pulled"

Madison Kerth as Wednesday performs “Pulled”; Christian Collins (Pugsley) is hanging loose at right.

Dropping by Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts on a recent weeknight for a run-through of “The Addams Family” offered an opportunity to catch the cast going through the paces and working on the songlist for the show, naturally. I only had time to catch most of the first half while recording interviews with director Gary Rucker and Trina Beck (Morticia). (Check out the podcast interview with Rucker here.)

(Related: Read the “Addams Family” preview)

It also offered the chance to catch young Madison Kerth perform one of the show’s early numbers, “Pulled,” and while this is obviously a rehearsal (you can hear Rucker piping in directing notes from the back of the auditorium), it nevertheless hints at what could be a really fun performance by Kerth. A senior at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), Kerth gets around. She’s already performed in several location productions and earned 2009 Big Easy and Storer Boone nominations for her performance in the title role of a touring production of “Annie.” (Check out her list of performances here.) Not only did she perform with the NOCCA vocal students at this past New Orleans Jazz Fest (watch the video), but she also appeared in a little fashion spread with some of her fellow students this past July in the New Orleans Advocate.

So check out the video below of her rehearsing “Pulled.” For more details on “The Addams Family,” click here.

“The Addams Family” at Rivertown Theaters kicks off a series of articles for the New Orleans Advocate (podcast)

Very excited about being given the opportunity to contribute to the New Orleans Advocate, which starts in Thursday’s (Nov. 5) Beaucoup section with three — count ’em, three — features spanning a nice little spectrum of entertainment.

But the most exciting opportunity of all was a chance to preview Rivertown Theaters’ production of the Broadway musical adaptation of “The Addams Family,” directed by Gary Rucker and starring Trina Beck as Morticia and Johnny Lee Missakian as Gomez.

While I was working on the feature I got a chance to interview both Gary Rucker and Trina Beck about the musical, which has an interesting history and required a pretty shrewd production strategy. Check out this podcast of the interview with Rucker (below). I’ll have the Trina Beck interview up later today, hopefully.

Also check out my previews of the 26th Mirliton Festival in Bywater, and “Sesame Street Live” at UNO Lakefront Arena.