“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV, Ep. 16: Will Coviello on Krewe du Vieux, Leslie Castay and John Pope on “Sweeney Todd” and Alison Logan on “The Original Classy Broad”

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We had a lot of fun on Saturday’s (Feb. 11) episode of WHIV (102.3 FM), in which we welcomed a wide range of guests:

Will Coviello, arts and entertainment editor for Gambit, as Krewe du Vieux prepared to roll in the Marigny and French Quarter that night. (Coviello also is a member of the sub-krewe Spermes).

Leslie Castay, who played The Beggar Woman in the New Orleans Opera Association’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” and writer John Pope, who offered his take on the blurred lines between opera and musical theater for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

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Podcast: Another year, another “Sweeney Todd” for Leslie Castay


(Photo by Tom Grosscup)

WHAT: New Orleans Opera Association presents the Stephen Sondheim classic inspired by the “penny dreadfuls” of Victorian London
WHEN: Fri. (Feb. 10), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Feb. 12), 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts
TICKETS: $25-$218
MORE INFO: Visit NOOA website

To say that speaking with Leslie Castay is in familiar territory is an understatement. She’s sitting in the office of B. Michael Howard, the Tulane musical theater chair and former leader of the Summer Lyric Theatre, which staged Stephen Sondheim’s classic “Sweeney Todd,” just a few steps downstairs in the Lupin Theater.

Castay, who’s working with Howard as she gets her master’s in musical theater, played the role of Mrs. Lovett in that 2016 production, and, in what is more than a happy coincidence, is back in the same production but in a different role when the New Orleans Opera Association presents the show on Friday night (Feb. 10) and Sunday afternoon (Feb. 12) at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Armstrong Park. In this production, Castay takes on the role of the Beggar Woman, who (spoiler alert!) is just as familiar with “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” as the other woman, so to speak.

(You might remember Leslie Castay from her PopSmart NOLA contribution about performing in “The Lion in Winter.”)

As John Pope notes in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, “Sweeney Todd” blurs the lines between musical theater and traditional opera, but definitely will enjoy a grander stage and with a more fleshed-out stage production. In this little “PopSmart NOLA” podcast treat (in advance of Saturday’s show on WHIV, 102.3 FM, 3 p.m.-4 p.m.), Castay discusses why she loves the production and how those lines blur.

“Sweeney Todd” is inspired by the “penny dreadfuls” of Victorian London; Sondheim’s score fueled eight Tony Awards in 1979 in telling a darkly funny and macabre tale of murder and revenge.

This particular production features a family reunion of sorts; the husband-and-wife team of New Orleans native Greer Grimsley (Sweeney Todd) and Luretta Bybee (Mrs. Lovett) join forces for this production after having performed in the show separately over the years.

“The Lion in Winter” queen Leslie Castay’s Top 5 royals in popular culture

15250790_10154736025909561_5339399058981059792_o “THE LION IN WINTER”
WHAT: See ’Em On Stage presents the Tony Award-winning drama. Christopher Bentivegna directs Leslie Castay, Kali Russell, Kevin Murphy, Alec Barnes, Alex Martinez Wallace, Eli Timm and Jake Wynne-Wilson
WHEN: Dec. 1-18
WHERE: Sanctuary Cultural Arts Center, 2525 Burgundy St.
TICKETS: $25-$30
INFO: seosaproductioncompany.com

There’s something very special, and very royal, about See ’Em On Stage’s production of “The Lion in Winter,” a witty tale of palace intrigue around King Henry II; his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine; and some nasty song with a mistress and French King thrown in for good measure. The Tony Award-winning play (written by the great James Goldman) might be better known for the Academy Award-winning film adaptation that starred a late-career Katharine Hepburn opposite young British stars Peter O’Toole and Anthony Hopkins. It’s also noted as an inspiration for Fox’s delicious TV drama on the hip-hop world, “Empire.”

Intrigued by the staging of palace intrigue, we asked star Leslie Castay, a fittingly royal choice for Eleanor, to serve up her five favorite royals of popular culture:

AUDREY HEPBURN IN “ROMAN HOLIDAY” — The 1953 movie starring a luminous young Audrey Hepburn as a princess on the loose in Rome, accompanied by the handsome Gregory Peck and the charming Eddie Albert. Pure escapist rom-com heaven.

“SNOW WHITE”’S QUEEN — “Snow White” was the first movie I ever saw as a child and I still get chills when her beautifully evil face fills the screen.

LADY DIANA’S WEDDING DAY — Also known as “the original Kate Middleton.” Her wedding dress was the inspiration for my prom dress, along with the rest of New Orleans high school girls. (Mine was dusty rose taffeta, by the way.)

SIAN PHILLIPS AS LIVIA IN “I, CLAUDIUS” — I got hooked on the miniseries during a re-broadcast on PBS in the 1990s while I was doing summer stock in Pennsylvania. Sian Philllips’ played Livia, wife of the first Emperor of Rome Augustus, trying to elevate her son Tiberius to the throne by any means possible was deliciously evil and elegantly royal at the same time — such fun.

KATHARINE HEPBURN IN “THE LION IN WINTER” — I was in high school when my drama teacher showed us the movie one day in class. Hepburn and O’Toole’s chemistry is fantastic, and I delighted in hearing such wickedly contemporary dialogue in period costume and surroundings. Classic lines include “I’d hang you from the nipples, but you’d shock the children.” ’Nuf said.

See ’Em On Stage announces 2016-17 season along with expanded programming, restructuring (exclusive)

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See ‘Em On Stage, the nearly three-year-old New Orleans theatrical company known for its passion for offbeat musical satire, announced a 2016-17 season fueled by a management restructuring and other changes during its “Rebel Rebel” premiere party Tuesday (May 31) at the Ugly Dog Saloon.

“This new model will allow us to offer opportunities to a wider variety of artists including local writers, directors, actors, designers, dancers, musicians, and theater educators; along with visual artists (for special projects),” Artistic Director Christopher Bentivegna said in a press release. “Our team now includes 16 diverse theater professionals working together in order to provide a multitude of projects within seven different divisions.”

That team will feature Bentivegna along with Kali Russell (associate artistic director), Bob Murrell (managing director), Breanna Beitz (managing director), Jake Wynne-Wilson (community outreach coordinator), Ashton Akridge (burlesque division coordinator), Kayln Hepting (staged readings division coordinator) and Abbey P. Murrell, Caroline St. Amant, Eli Timm, Clayton Shelvin, Anna Toujas, Robert Young, Logan Faust, Rebecca Lindell, Ariel Schwab, and Sam Cespedes.

(Read more: Christopher Bentivegna’s Top 5 favorite See ’Em On Stage productions)

New divisions to accompany the company’s main-stage productions include original works, burlesque, comedy, staged readings, community outreach and youth education. The new season also will bring on new venues such as the New Orleans Art Center, The Avant-Garden District, and The Valiant, a new theater opened by Richard Mayer — formerly of the Old Marquer Theatre. (This new theater is scheduled to open in July, the release said.”

See ‘Em On Stage already has presented work that reflects this new approach, the release said, noting the production of original short plays as part of its community-outreach program for patients and clients at both Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and Crossroads Louisiana (which services adults with disabilities). The company plans to partner with The New Movement for a program for teens to perform in a full one-act production at program’s end.

The company also has brought in Four Sweater Vests, the local staged-readings company, as one of its official divisions “with a mission to provide opportunities to both experienced and novice performers and directors through participation in staged readings of popular works.”

“This new model of different divisions will allow us to not only offer more opportunities to established as well as fledgling artists, but will provide us and the theater community in general with a more diverse and wide-reaching audience base,” the release said.

The 2016-17 main stage season will offer a schedule that speaks to the “Rebel Rebel” theme that explores the notions of heroes and anti-heroes, and will include three regional premieres and one New Orleans premiere. (Synopsies provided by the company.)

Lizzie the Musical
Written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt
Aug. 11-28, 2016 (Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m.) except Aug. 13 (9:30 p.m.)
New Orleans Arts Club
Synopsis: “Four women front a rock band and tell the scandalous story of Lizzie Borden, America’s favorite double-axe murderess and Victorian hometown girl. In 1892, on a sweltering August day in a small New England town, a well-to-do elderly man and his second wife were brutally murdered with an axe in broad daylight. Lizzie Borden, their youngest daughter, was the primary suspect. She was arrested and tried, but, with no witnesses to the hideous crime, she was acquitted. The murders remain unsolved to this day and have become not only one of America’s most notorious legends but also the inspiration for this critically acclaimed new musical. This nearly sung-through rock opera’s score owes less in inspiration to Andrew Lloyd Weber or Stephen Sondheim than it does to Heart, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Grace Slick. Starring Abbey P. Murrell, Idella Johnson, Kali Russell, and Leslie L. Claverie as Lizzie Borden. This production will be a regional premiere.” Continue reading