With “Yiddishe Shtunde,” Elliot Raisen recalls his Top 5 radio days memories

jim-elliot-7889-768x588“YIDDISHE SHTUNDE”
Elliot Raisen’s tribute to the radio shows of the 1930s through the ’50s stars Bunny Love, Matthew Mickal, Maggie Corbett, Margeaux Fanning and Jim Fitzmorris
WHEN: Thurs.-Sat. (Jan. 12-14), 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
TICKETS: $15-$20
MORE INFO: Visit the website

Elliot Raisen has a deep and abiding love of the radio shows from the good old days, and, at age, 88, is happy to share them with New Orleans audiences. So we asked him to take a swing at his top five favorites, and here’s what he came up with as The Theatre at St. Claude presents “Yiddishe Shtunde”:

When I was a teenager, I saw almost every radio show that was being broadcast in the 1940s. Tickets were free. People always asked for more tickets than they needed because it took about a year to receive them by mail. We would go to the theater and ask for extra tickets.

I loved ”Hit Parade,” ”The Bob Hope Show,” ”Fibber McGee and Molly,” ”The Shadow,” ”The Green Hornet,” “Double or Nothing,” ”The $64 Question,” ”Dick Tracy,” ”Molly Goldberg,” ”The Aldrich Family,” ”Against The Storm,” ”The Abbott and Costello Show,” ”Abie’s Irish Rose,” ”Whiles the World Turns,” ”Guiding Lights,” ”Fred Allen’s Show,” ”The Great Gildersleeve,” and ”The Mercury Theater on The Air.”

I loved hearing The Shadow say, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?” Today it would be not only men but also women and transgender people as well.

I loved hearing the announcers talking about the train coming into Grand Central Station with the reminder, “There’s a story in every window”. This is so true.

When we weren’t listening to the radio, we used to take the Third Avenue El to its end and go back. There was no A/C then, so we could open the windows. We did it just to look at the buildings and look into the windows, because it only cost five cents.

But those adventures are another story. Ask me. Here are five memories from radio:

  1. I remember the sponsor for “Double or Nothing” was Feenamints. These are little candies that look just like Chiclets. They act like Ex-Lax. They gave samples to the audience. We used to put them in an Chiclet box and give them to our friends. Actually , at one of my productions I bought 200 Chiclets and gave them out.I still have a few.
  1. We saw Marlene Dietrich on “The Bob Hope Show.” They would read the script and throw each page on the floor after they read it. At the end of the show, we ran to the stage, scooped up the scripts, and ran out … with them chasing us. After I moved from home, my mother threw the scripts out before I could retrieve them. She also threw out a Japanese sword from World War II that my friend in the army gave it to me.
  1. At “The Abbott and Costello Show,”I went to the men’s room and peed next to Bud Abbott! Now I can go into Puccino’s and pee next to him again. They have a picture of Abbott and Costello on the wall there.
  1. I saw Constance Bennett in the hallway one time. I thought she looked anorexic. I realized years later that the film made them look heavier, so they used very thin actresses.
  1. I hated Frank Sinatra, because he got all the “bobby-soxers.” When he was on “The Hit Parade,” all the “soxers” (my wife Sandy was one of them) screamed and tried to attack him. On the other hand, when we tried to pick them up? They ignored us completely. Hated him. But the man could sing.

“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) looks back at 2016 with theater critics Brad Rhines and Ted Mahne and music writer Alison Fensterstock

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Earlier in the month we reviewed the year 2016 in New Orleans culture, providing a carefully curated set of the top stories as reported by local media (including PopSmart NOLA).

To advance the discussion, I welcomed theater critics Brad Rhines (New Orleans Advocate) and Ted Mahne (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) and veteran New Orleans music journalist Alison Fensterstock to go over their own top stories in theater and music on the radio show “PopSmart NOLA” — our first pre-recorded show, to air on WHIV (102.3 FM) from 3 p.m.-4 p.m. You also can listen online at whivfm.org. (Note: This episode originally was to air last week but had to be moved to this week due to scheduling and production issues.)

Here’s how I set up the year in review back on Dec. 20:

As New Orleans continued to shift into what could be called a “post-post-Katrina” period — that is, moving past the 10-year commemoration of the devastation, or recovery mode — evidence of a new New Orleans culture continued to reverberate all over. Sometimes we see that reflected in trends identified in other cities, like a more diverse (and ever-shifting) restaurant scene, or (more dramatically) the legalization and hopeful regulation of short-term rentals. Then there was, for a variety of reasons, a shrinking of the Hollywood South imprint and its seeming rejection of a film industry in the state. Yet there continued the boundless proliferation of festivals as New Orleans continued to almost manically celebrate itself. To be sure, the changing face of the city’s culture remained ever changing. There are those who believe that, with so many of these changes, New Orleans’ unique and often quirky culture might be threatened — that the reasons that make the city so special and so inviting to the rest of the world are shrinking like the Louisiana coastline. But 2016 also represented a year of amazing and exciting moments that reconfirmed a city’s passion for its cultural life — even when commemorating the lives of famous cultural figures not from New Orleans. Last week I posted an overview of many of these moments, a carefully curated round-up of stories pulled from several local media outlets (including PopSmart NOLA), as well as national outlets where appropriate. The year is broken down into categories, with a subjectively chosen lead story followed by links to lots of others.

In this episode I’ll go back over the year-in-review post, highlighting the top stories, and then I’ll bring on:

    • Brad Rhines, a freelance arts and culture writer. Brad regularly contributes theater coverage and criticism to The New Orleans Advocate. When he’s not at the theater he’s probably spending time with his family at one the city’s various parks, museums, or music festivals.
    • Ted Mahne. A New Orleans journalist for more than 30 years, Ted Mahne has spent a lifetime as a devoted theater-goer. He has covered the local theater and arts scene for more than 20 years, now serving as a freelance writer and chief theater critic for The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com. When not in a seat on the aisle, Ted can be found teaching sophomores at Jesuit High School.
    • We’ll also chat with veteran music journalist Alison Fensterstock, with whom I’ve worked at three different media outlets — Gambit, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate. Alison also has been published in several national media outlets, including NPR (where she posted a relevant piece on the David Bowie memorial parade) and Pitchfork. Alison was one of the first New Orleans journalists to cover the city’s emerging bounce scene in general and the breakout career of Big Freedia in particular — a story that became even more intriguing in 2016.

I also want to remind you that if you like what you’re hearing on this, the radio show version of “PopSmart NOLA” you can “like” PopSmart NOLA on Facebook. We’re also on Instagram at @popsmartnola, and I’m on Twitter as @dlsnola504.

Happy New Year, y’all!

(P.S. Big thanks to Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré for collaborating with us on our special ticket giveaway for Friday’s Sweet Crude concert, and congratulations to the winner, Stephen Schaefer!)

Poor Yorick, new theater company, to present “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” as debut production in 2017

Poor Yorick theater company, which features familiar faces from the New Orleans theater scene, will launch its first production when it presents “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour in January 2017 at the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church Fellowship Hall (583 Broadway St.)

Billed as a “deep exploration of isolation, censorship, communication, manipulation, and the remarkable power of spontaneity,” the play is presented as minimally as one might imagine — devoid of a director and set, and with a different guest performer each night reading a script for the first time. The play will from Jan. 12-27.

“It’s a theatrical event that can only happen once,” said Poor Yorick Artistic Associate Alex Ates said in a press release. “All at once, the play is revolutionary, modest, hilarious, chilling, charming and even dangerous. The artists of Poor Yorick are exhilarated to bring this one-of-a-kind production to New Orleans for its regional premiere.”

Ates is also known as a key figure in The NOLA Project and is joined by James Bartelle, associate artistic director of that troupe. The other two artistic associates are Isabel Balée (creative writing instructor at Tulane University) and Daniel Pruksarnukul (instructor at NOCCA). (Bartelle was most recently seen in The NOLA Project’s “4000 Miles.”)

The company, Bartelle said in the release, “aims to develop and produce provocative, engaging, and intimate work with a focus on writers from marginalized communities … at a time when those marginalized voices may need the loudest amplification.”

“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” premiered in 2011 at Toronto’s Volcano Theatre in collaboration with Aura Nova Berlin. It has since enjoyed international stagings, including an extended run off-Broadway.

The play deals with such weighty issues as power, obedience and manipulation. Soleimanpour was a conscientious objector in his native Iran, refusing to participate in the country’s mandatory military service program.

Scheduled performers include Kathy Randels, Lisa D’Amour, Michael “Quess?” Moore, Devyn Tyler, Claire Moncrief and Bartelle.

Visit the Facebook page for more details.

The year in culture: New Orleans 2016 in review (a curated roundup of news)

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(NOTE: This round-up will be updated as comments are added, and any notable news is reported, after the end of the year.)

As New Orleans continued to shift into what could be called a “post-post-Katrina” period — that is, moving past the 10-year commemoration of the devastation, or recovery mode — evidence of a new New Orleans culture continued to reverberate all over. Sometimes we see that reflected in trends identified in other cities, like a more diverse (and ever-shifting) restaurant scene, or (more dramatically) the legalization and hopeful regulation of short-term rentals. Then there was, for a variety of reasons, a shrinking of the Hollywood South imprint and its seeming rejection of a film industry in the state. Yet there continued the boundless proliferation of festivals as New Orleans continued to almost manically celebrate itself.

To be sure, the changing face of the city’s culture remained ever changing.

There are those who believe that, with so many of these changes, New Orleans’ unique and often quirky culture might be threatened — that the reasons that make the city so special and so inviting to the rest of the world are shrinking like the Louisiana coastline.

But 2016 also represented a year of amazing and exciting moments that reconfirmed a city’s passion for its cultural life — even when commemorating the lives of famous cultural figures not from New Orleans. Here’s an overview of many of these moments, a (hopefully) carefully curated round-up of stories pulled from several local media outlets (including PopSmart NOLA), as well as national outlets where appropriate.

The year is broken down into categories, with a subjectively chosen lead story followed by links to lots of others. I hope to continue the discussion on “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) on Saturday (3 p.m.-4 p.m.).

What was the biggest cultural moment in New Orleans in 2016 for you? Please add any of your important moments in the comments section.

Irvin Mayfield resigns from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (WWL-TV)
“Calling the last months ‘trying and difficult,’ Irvin Mayfield responded for the first time to the 14-month scandal surrounding his use of public library donations by resigning as artistic director and board member at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit he founded in 2002.”

ALSO: Beyonce’s “Formation” video, with New Orleans references, is released (Curbed) … New Orleans Airlift’s Music Box finds a permanent home in Bywater (My Spilt Milk) … Trombone Shorty performs at the White House for 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts (WGNO) … Bayou Country Superfest to relocate to New Orleans in 2017 (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Skywriting turns heads at Jazz Fest (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Bayou Boogaloo policy has neighbors feeling fenced in (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Musicians rally for Lil Queenie (My Spilt Milk) … Michael Cerveris releases “Piety” (PopSmart NOLA) … Lil Wayne makes news (not all of it good) … Fats Domino documentary airs on PBS (New Orleans Advocate) … Boyfriend breaks out (My Spilt Milk) … French Quarter Festivals, Inc.’s Marci Schramm steps down (New Orleans Advocate) … David Kunian takes over as director of New Orleans Jazz Museum (New Orleans Advocate) … Local acts warm up for national acts at Jazz Fest (My Spilt Milk) … Delish Da Goddess breaks out with video (Gambit) … Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” album debuts at No. 1; album’s videos have “stunning power”; Solange pens letter after Orpheum incident; and Solange plays New Orleans tour guide for Vogue … Big Freedia crowned queen of Krewe du Vieux (PopSmart NOLA) … Big Feedia experiences legal trouble (New Orleans Advocate) … and Big Freedia saves the holiday with “A Very Big Freedia Christmass” (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Tank and the Bangas break out (My Spilt Milk)

Shaya wins James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

“Shaya opened in Uptown New Orleans in February 2015. The restaurant, which is co-owned by John Besh, has been a sensation from the get-go. The food pays tribute to chef Shaya’s native Israel. Reservations to taste that food have been unusually hard to come by. Several national food outlets named Shaya among the country’s best new restaurant openings of the year. I gasped over the restaurant in a four-bean review in July. ‘Who woulda thought hummus in New Orleans?’ Shaya said when he accepted his medal. ‘What was everyone thinking?’”

ALSO: Nellie Murray Feast honors Leah Chase, remembers culinary legend (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Fried Chicken Fest debuts, to move to bigger venue (New Orleans Advocate) … Isaac Toups expands to SoFAB with Toups South (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Dryades Public Market opens in Central City (Biz New Orleans) … Restaurant Closings: Booty’s (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Dinner Lab (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Kyoto (New Orleans Advocate) … O’Henry’s Food & Spirits (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Tony Angello’s (New Orleans Advocate) … Horinoya (New Orleans Advocate) … and Restaurant Openings: Caribbean Room (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Dook’s Place (PopSmart NOLA) … Rosedale (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Wolf ’n’ Swallow (Gambit) … Dunbar’s Creole Cooking (New Orleans Advocate) … Brett Anderson’s top five new restaurants (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune).

Author Michael Tisserand releases “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” to universal praise (PopSmart NOLA)
“The subtitle is more than a clever pun, for Tisserand reveals the racial subtext of Herriman’s life, which often seeped into his comic-strip hero of the same name; Herriman, an African American, “passed” as a white man. The praise for Tisserand’s book — years in the making — already is overwhelmingly positive on this, its release date (Dec. 6). … “Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles,” writes Kirkus Reviews.”

ALSO: Michael Allen Zell releases “Law & Desire” (New Orleans Advocate) … Illustrated edition of Danny Barker memoir “A Life in Jazz” is released, with forward by Gwen Thompkins (NPR) … New Orleans Poetry Festival debuts (WWNO) … Mary Badham appears at Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (Deep South magazine) … Tulane hosts traveling “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” exhibit; holds second line (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Public Library adds new hours (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Public Library’s new Mid-City location opens on Canal Street (New Orleans Advocate) … Michael Murphy releases “Hear Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Rich Musical Heritage and Lively Current Scene” (WWNO).

Louisiana stripper age-limit law challenged (New Orleans Advocate)
“Three dancers from New Orleans and Baton Rouge filed the suit claiming the state law robs them of their right to express themselves, a violation of the state and federal constitutions. They also said the ban is too broad and discriminates against dancers based on gender and age. Further, the dancers said there’s no evidence the new restrictions will have any impact on human trafficking, even though the state lawmaker who introduced it, Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said it was ‘strictly an anti-human trafficking bill.’ All three dancers said the ban would hurt them financially. Two dancers said their income already had been sliced by at least half.”
ALSO: Polly Watts takes Avenue Pub staff to Belgium (PopSmart NOLA) … Bar Openings: Three Keys, Ace Hotel (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Bar Closings: Bellocq (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Fox & Hound (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune).

Tyler Perry presents nationally televised “The Passion” live in New Orleans (Deadline)

“Equal parts sermon and Super Bowl halftime show, Fox’s ‘The Passion’ live event from New Orleans tonight was an Easter basket overstuffed with sincerity, good intentions and hammy musical performances, all melting into a big batch of goo faster than a chocolate bunny in the sun.”

ALSO: Faux/Real Fest drastically reduces footprint (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Opera presents “Dead Man Walking” (Louisiana Life) … Richard Mayer closes Old Marquer Theatre (NOLA.com| The Times-Picayune); opens Valiant Theater & Lounge in Arabi (New Orleans Advocate) … InFringe Fest debuts, sort of (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Theater gets wet: “Waterworld: The Musical” (NOLA.co | The Times-Picayune) and “Exterior. Pool – Night” … Trixie Minx presents “Cupid’s Cabaret” at the Orpheum (PopSmart NOLA) … Transgender artists reclaim their identity (PopSmart NOLA) … Bella Blue voted No. 8 burlesque performer in 21st Century Burlesque poll (PopSmart NOLA) … Le Petit Théâtre celebrates 100 years (Biz New Orleans) … Snake Oil Festival draws huge crowds for burlesque, circus and sideshow performances (PopSmart NOLA).

Hollywood South turns South with tax-credit limitations (New Orleans Advocate)
“Louisiana’s film and television industry — popularly known as Hollywood South because of the large number of movies and shows filmed here over the past decade — has suffered a sharp downturn since mid-2015. Industry officials are blaming a law passed a year ago by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal — a law that aimed to control ballooning costs for a generous incentive program that independent analysts say has not provided much bang for the buck.”

ALSO: New Orleans Film Society’s Jolene Pinder steps down (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Deepwater Horizon movie debuts (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune); so does memorial “ELEVEN” (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Broad Theater opens in Mid-City (Gambit) … New Orleans’ own Bianca Del Rio stars in “Hurricane Bianca” (PopSmart NOLA) … Architecture and Design Film Festival debuts, sponsored by the Louisiana Architectural Foundation, at Carver and Broad theaters (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sell French Quarter house as marriage ends (ET).

Artist Brandan Odums opens StudioBE with new exhibit in Bywater (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
“The powerful installation features mural-scale graffiti-style portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Muhammad Ali, plus paintings of victims of police violence, New Orleans’ past political activists, and world peace advocates. The theme of the exhibit bridges the mid-20th-century Civil Rights era and the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The title, Odums said, is meant to imply both change and continuity.”

ALSO: Bob Dylan exhibition opens at New Orleans Museum of Art (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … “La Femme” at New Orleans Arts Center captures diversity of women (New Orleans Advocate) … “Avian Aviators” sculptures dominate Poydras Street (New Orleans Advocate).

City Council approves short-term rental rules (New Orleans Advocate)
“Council members who supported the rules — along with officials from the Landrieu administration and Airbnb — cast the package of regulations as a model for regulating the roughly 5,000 properties in New Orleans now listed on short-term rental sites, despite a longstanding citywide ban on the practice. And, pointing to data the city would require from Airbnb and similar platforms, they argued the new rules would provide a foundation that can be made more or less restrictive if problems develop.”

ALSO: Confederate memorials spur “Take ’Em Down” movement (Curbed) … National World War II Museum commemorates 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor  (WDSU) … Ellen DeGeneres earns Presidential Medal of Freedom (PopSmart NOLA) … National Museum of African American History and Culture, with New Orleans references, opens in Washington, D.C. (NPR) … Musee Conti wax museum closes (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … One kiss goes viral at Southern Decadence (PopSmart NOLA) … Sinkhole de Mayo becomes a thing (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

NBA moves 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans over HB2 controversy (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
“The NBA … gets a chance to make a powerful political statement by placing its midseason classic in one of America’s most socially progressive cities. New Orleans ranked fourth among American cities with the highest rates of LGBT population, according to a 2015 New York Times study. It ranked as 12th most ‘LGBT-friendly’ city in the U.S, in a study by nerdwallet.com, which based its rankings on statistics from the FBI, Gallup and Human Rights Campaign.”

ALSO: New Orleans Zephyrs renamed as Baby Cakes (Washington Post).

Musician Pete Fountain remembered (New Orleans Advocate); second line (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Keith Spera: “In their glory years, he and partner-in-crime Al Hirt lived large, laughed loud and drank a whole lot. But when it came time to toot — at his club, during a Super Bowl halftime show, at the White House, wherever — Fountain inevitably delivered. He could make a clarinet sing with a deep, rich, bluesy tone all his own. Styles may change — in a publicity photo from the 1970s, he rocks a toupee, collars the size of eagle wings, and a scarf — but his sound was timeless.”

ALSO: Musician and restaurateur Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. remembered (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Herb Hardesty, longtime Fats Domino saxophonist (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Buckwheat Zydeco, music pioneer and Jazz Fest favorite (OffBeat) … Sharon Litwin, arts journalist, promoter, activist (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Prince remembered through the years, at Jazz Fest, at Essence Fest, and with second line … David Bowie remembered with tributes, second line (Alison Fensterstock/NPR) … Mercedes “Miss Mercy” Stevenson, Big Queen, Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians, remembered (WWOZ) … Helen Koenig, Carnival costume supplier (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune).

UPDATE: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune weighed in with a list of 10 highlights, which included noting that Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest happened again.

What were some of your most memorable cultural moments in 2016? Tell us what is missing in the comments section, and we will add them at the beginning of the year.

Jon Greene’s Top 5 (or so) influences for Le Petit’s “The Musicians of Bremen: A Holiday Panto”

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Panto musical comedy written and directed by Jon Greene and starring Bob Edes Jr., AshleyRose Bailey, William Bowling, Natalie Boyd, Keith Claverie, Clint Johnson, Garrett Prejean, Michael Spara
WHERE: Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, St. Peter St.
WHEN: Dec. 14-21
TICKETS: $15/$35
MORE INFO: Visit the website

As Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré launches its holiday show, “Musicians of Bremen: A Holiday Panto,” we thought it would be a good idea to have writer-director Jon Greene offer a look into his creative process for the show. After all, Greene already had presented a “Sleeping Beauty” panto version, so this was familiar territory for him.

This particular production, which opens Friday (Dec. 16), is of course based on the popular Brothers Grimm story but serves as a wacky sequel to the original, with animal musicians working to save their nightclub from a mean neighbor. In true panto style, there will be plenty of audience participation, slapstick, and a whole lot of crazy songs.

Herewith, Greene’s own Top 5:

“YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS”: “THE CLOCK” — “In the earliest years of television there, was a level of comedic freedom that would never be the same. ‘Your Show of Shows’ featured a lineup of soon-to-be comedy icons, including Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner (still with us!). With a writing staff that included the not-yet-famous Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Larry Gilbert, and Neil Simon, ‘Your show of Shows’ was critical in helping the world of Vaudeville transition so seamlessly to the world of TV. ‘The Clock’ is a personal favorite. A simple set-up that combines physical skill at dance levels and a wonderful sense of timing. This routine influenced not one but many of the physical gags in our panto.

GROUCHO MARX, “HELLO I MUST BE GOING” FROM “ANIMAL CRACKERS” — “The logical illogic says it all. I have never laughed harder as a child than at the idea of saying one thing but meaning and doing the complete opposite. Stick around and you’ll get a special singing treat in our panto.”

HEDLEY LAMARR AND TAGGERT FROM “BLAZING SADDLES” — “No one helped American audiences bridge the comedic gap more than Mel Brooks. He has always understood the universal nature of archetypes, especially when he writes and directs his villains. Equal parts menacing and foolish, the brilliant Harvey Korman’s Hedley Lammar and his daft sidekick (played by Slim Pickens) are classic panto stock characters and share a lot of similar behaviors with our Baddie and #2.”

THE CHASES FROM “BENNY HILL” AND “WHAT’S UP, DOC?” — “If you ever saw even one Wile E. Coyote cartoon, then you’ve seen a chase. But before there were cartoons, ‘The Chase’ was already a part of comedic history. Whole movies have been written around a chase — ‘The Great Race,’ ‘Cannonball Run’ and ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ come to mind. But the best chases I know were how Benny Hill ended his show every week. And this American version from the 1960s classic ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ isn’t so bad, either. Either way, you will definitely find an outsized chase in our panto.’

THE OPENING SEQUENCE OF “BANANAS” — “Woody Allen’s slapstick comedy ‘Bananas’ is about a small Latin American country going through a military coup. But Allen does more than just make merriment; he always adds a level of intelligence to even his silliest work. Take the opening of ‘Bananas,’ in which the assassination of a country’s dictator is broadcast as if on ‘The Wide World of Sports.’ Pointed, poignant and absolutely absurd. Moments like this have always pushed me to do the same. Comedy — and especially our panto — doesn’t shy away from issues or big ideas; it skews them better than anyone.

BONUS: “VITAMEATAVEGAMIN” — “Nobody does comedy better than Lucille ball. And there are too many amazing and hilarious routines to mention but when it comes to homophones, mixed up words, and word play in general this routine takes the cake. Our panto takes its word play very seriously, and without Ms. Ball pointing us in the right direction, I don’t know what we’d do.”

Honorable mentions: Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“The Cheese Shop/Ministry of Silly Walks”), “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” (“The Duel”),“The Carol Burnett Show” (“The Dentist”)

“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.

“Mary’s Little Monster” gets to the heart of creation at Mudlark Public Theatre


spit&vigor presents “Mary’s Little Monster
WHAT: Local premiere of Thomas Kee’s play about the birth of the “Frankenstein” story. Kaitlan Emery and Sara Fellini direct Adam Belvo, Tyler Downey, Linnea Larsdotter, Ian Petersen and Fellini.
WHEN: Thurs.-Fri. (Nov. 17-18), 8 p.m.; Sat. (Nov. 19), 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mudlark Public Theatre, 1200 Port St.
TICKETS: Visit the ticket page or email spitnvigor@gmail.com

The company spit&vigor is back with the New Orleans premiere of Thomas Kee’s play about the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s legendary work “Frankenstein. Co-director and co-star Sara Fellini of spit&vigor took a moment to answer some questions about the work.

What inspired “Mary’s Little Monster” and how did the three of you get together for the project?
“Mary’s Little Monster” is loosely based on the “Year Without Summer,” where Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” whilst cooped up with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Polidori, and Claire Claremont at Byron’s estate on Lake Geneva. It chronicles the artist’s process, the genesis of an idea and the labor it takes to give birth to a work of genius. My partner and I saw a production of “Mary’s” performed in New York, and we loved the story so much we wanted to produce a version with our own company’s take on the material, one that is emotionally raw and volatile, but also explores the subtle and nuanced elements of human interaction that these great writers would have been keenly aware of and which produced such immortal work.

This is, after all, a story about artistic inspiration and creation. What is it about the claustrophobic nature of being sequestered that’s so appealing when you think of “birthing” a story so legendary as “Frankenstein”?
I think that limited surroundings and people can become grating, and that kind of irritant is not unlike a grit of sand in an oyster — given time to agitate and mull, one can produce pearls as you add layer after layer and coat after coat of enamel to a core idea at the heart of a story. As an added experiment, we drove the entire cast down in a van, and that closeness and the lack of time alone has informed and infused our production and performances with an urgency to create that is unique.

How does someone “perform” as a crystal ball?
I myself read Tarot cards, and as any good soothsayer will tell you, a great deal of the reading of a crystal ball (or what’s “in the cards”) is reading the person across from you. I think that being open to what’s in front of you, creating nothing and denying nothing, but being present and allowing the thoughts and prognostications to come as you see them, I think that is a vital element of being a performer — you can perform things that people didn’t even know was in them, just by suggesting the thought.

Why do you think “Frankenstein” in particular and the creation motif in general continues to resonate with audiences? Of all the monster stories we’ve heard over the past century or so, “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” stand so resiliently.
Mary has a wonderful line in this play about how the true “horror is within.” I think this play resonates so strongly because we are all afraid, in some part, of what lies within us — our ability to create, to destroy, and what we might wreak on this planet. I think Mary Shelley wrote an incredible story precisely because she took elements of the world around her and then with a small leap showed the true horror of human creation — that we are afraid of what we are inside, and that if we ourselves are able to create that spark that only the old gods had had up until that point, what terrors might we bring into existence.

Why did you choose Mudlark, and why is it is vital to have this theater space and back up and running in the community?
My partner, Adam, has performed at the Mudlark many times in the past. As part of the New Orleans Fringe, he brought “My Aim Is True” and “Butcher Holler Here We Come” to the space, and when we were thinking of places to bring the show, it was number one on his list for ambience, for the space itself, and for the generosity and warmness of heart and soul that Pandora (Gastelum) and her community has. The Mudlark is a vital space because it brings people together from all walks, and produces top-notch puppetry and theater in the Bywater.

“1776,” a bit dated yet very timely, gets a patriotic salute at Rivertown Theaters

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WHAT: Rivertown Theaters presents the Tony Award-winning musical about the backstory of the Declaration of Independence. A.J. Allegra directs Sherman Edwards music (book by Peter Stone); starring Gary Rucker, David Hoover, Louis Dudoussat and others.
WHEN: Nov. 4-5, 8 p.m.; Nov. 6, 2 p.m.; through Nov. 20
WHERE: Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, 325 Minor St.
TICKETS: $44 adults, $41.90 seniors, $39.80 students
MORE INFO: www.rivertowntheaters.com

There is something grandiose about Rivertown Theaters’ staging of “1776” that goes beyond the obviously calculated timing of its presentation over the course of this presidential election finale. The musical itself, which debuted in 1969, was an ambitious affair, trying to meld politics, policy and poetry long before Aaron Sorkin broke all the rules with TV’s masterful “The West Wing.”

Much as John Adams tries to help herd the cats that were the nation’s first Congress, director A.J. Allegra must herd a cast of characters that must feel distinct, yes, but also, well, entertaining. But because, nearly 50 years since the musical’s premiere, politics as entertainment has taken on a whole new meaning, anyway, so “1776” becomes a whole other challenge.

And with a few curious exceptions — not necessarily the fault of the production — the musical is a smashing success that should be seen before the glow of this fraught election subsides. Intricate, complicated, uncomfortable but filled with pride, music and respect, “1776” restores your faith in musical theater as something more than just a song-and-dance piece of fluff. It’s a testament to this collaboration, ostensibly, of two of the most talented figures in the greater New Orleans theater scene.

Allegra, as artistic director of The NOLA Project, here is in cahoots with Rivertown’s Gary Rucker, the co-artistic director and, in this case, the star of the show in playing John Adams. I have no idea what kind of collaborative spirit was sparked between the two in the production; maybe Rucker just stuck to the production and acting side and left the directing to Allegra. But the final product does indeed feel like a powerhouse team effort.

Continue reading

5 questions for Nick Shackleford as Tennessee Williams Theatre Company presents “Dangerous Birds (If Agitated)”

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WHAT: Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans presents a trio of short comedies from Williams
WHEN: Nov. 4-20, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Phillips Bar & Restaurants, 733 Cherokee St.
TICKETS: $25 general, $20 students/seniors
MORE INFO: Visit http://www.twtheatrenola.com/

As the company whose oxygen comes completely from the tank of one playwright, the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans happy to plumb the depths of the legendary writer in whichever way possible, packaged in whatever way works best.

That’s why we have “Dangerous Birds (If Agitated),” a triple-bill of three short plays by Williams as presented by the company starting Friday (Nov. 4) at, of all places, the patio of Phillips Bar. That package reportedly comes in the form of an “ornithology lesson” as taught one of New Orleans’ edgiest burlesque performers, Bunny Love — the mistress of ceremonies. (While known for her burlesque work, Love has explored theatrical acting with this troupe and as a lead in Jim Fitzmorris’ compelling “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.” You can read my review here.)

The packaged trio includes late-career works by Williams: “The Gnadiges Fraulein,” “Sunburst” and “The Pronoun ‘I’” And so we asked co-artistic director Nick Shackleford to walk us through the show, whose cast also features Mary Pauley, Morrey McElrey, Chris Silva, Abby Botnick, Herbert Benjamin and Pearson Kunz.

As these are generally late-career works but ones that still possess a sense of humor, can you give me a sense of how you think Tennessee Williams’ sense of humor might have evolved from his earlier works to these?
I think Williams always had a dark sense of humor, but as a younger playwright, he practiced an even, if not timid, hand in exercising this aspect of comedy. He had a concern with how he would be commercially and critically regarded. As he matured as a playwright, I think he became less preoccupied with what would be easily digestible, and elected to go full-tilt into the land of black comedy, burlesque and even cartoonish expression. He’d still include tender moments, and some of his later plays like “Vieux Carré, “Clothes for a Summer Hotel” and “Something Cloudy, Something Clear” would be more emotionally delicate, but he’d intersperse those types of plays with the bawdy, outrageous ones like you’ll see in “Dangerous Birds.”

What inspired you to work with Bunny Love on this and to give the show a dash of burlesque? She’s been with the troupe previously, but what kind of added dimension does this bring to the show?
We loved working with Bunny so much in “The Rose Tattoo” that we had to have her back again. We’d been waiting for opportunities to involve her since our very first auditions in 2015. The burlesque element just made perfect sense because Williams described the play as slapstick, and akin to burlesque himself. We took this element and ran with it, and Bunny was happy to lead the charge. We have strung the evening’s plays together in an ornithology lesson led by her character, Professor Birdine Hazzard. She’s naughty and hysterical, and at the same time it pulls these three unique plays together in a way only Bunny can. Continue reading

A.J. Allegra’s Top 5 political-themed musicals as Rivertown Theaters mounts its “1776” campaign

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WHAT: Rivertown Theaters presents the Tony Award-winning musical about the backstory of the Declaration of Independence. A.J. Allegra directs Sherman Edwards music (book by Peter Stone); starring Gary Rucker, David Hoover, Louis Dudoussat and others.
WHEN: Nov. 4-5, 8 p.m.; Nov. 6, 2 p.m.; through Nov. 20
WHERE: Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, 325 Minor St.
TICKETS: $44 adults, $41.90 seniors, $39.80 students
MORE INFO: www.rivertowntheaters.com

When Rivertown Theaters’ Gary Rucker and Kelly Fouchi announced they would include “1776” as part of their 2016-17 season, they cleverly timed it to coincide with the Nov. 8 presidential election. Well played! But did they really know what they were getting into, given how crazy this election season has become? Some are lamenting the death of a republic in this toxic campaign, so now more than ever it’s crucial to witness the birth of a nation in this Tony Award-winning 1969 musical from Sherman Edwards (working from Peter Stone’s book). A.J. Allegra, artistic director of The NOLA Project, slides over to direct a cast that includes Rucker in the lead role of co-founding father John Adams, with David Hoover as Benjamin Franklin, Nori Pritchard as Abigail Adams and Louis Dudoussat as John Hancock.

Allegra, who I tapped to offer insights into a NOLA Project production a couple years ago, offered up his favorite musicals with a political theme — including this production, which opens this week at Rivertown Theaters in Kenner.

In anticipation of the opening of “1776” and our impending election, here are my picks for my favorite political musicals. I use the term “political” a little loosely, but all of them are very political at heart. Also, it is important to note that these are simply my favorite and not an objective “best of” list in any way.

I think comparing most pieces of theater is comparing apples and oranges. But all of these shows have moved or affected me in some way. It should not be surprising that many are shows I’ve worked on. You tend to develop an affinity for those ones.

“ASSASSINS” — This show is one of the most uncomfortable pieces of art ever created for musical theater. At a very surface-level interpretation, it can be viewed as a glorification of the men and women who have attempted to take the lives of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, F.D.R., Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Ronald Geagan, and John F. Kennedy. But in reality, this pastiche and bizarre Stephen Sondheim musical review set in a vague carnival purgatory setting is an acidic indictment of the American culture of “Me” that drives individuals with sociopathic tendencies towards seeking the greatest form of infamy. I love the darkness of the piece and the intentional discomfort that it aims squarely at the audience, forcing us all as viewers to come to terms with our own jaded views of the American Dreams that were promised to us but did not come true. This was the first professional musical I ever directed back in November of 2008 on the eve of our election of Barack Obama. While that was certainly a historic and (for me, wonderful) time, I honestly feel that the musical might be even more appropriate during this year’s absolutely toxic and vile election campaign, where one candidate’s large and vocal support base is made up in very large part of furious and (sometimes) violent Americans who feel that the American Dream promised to them has been deceitfully stolen from them by others. And yet, sometimes I think it is best to combat reality with art rather than reflect it. Perhaps a production of Assassins this year might just be too much to handle. I’m glad we are opening “1776,” in that case!

“CABARET” — Like “Assassins,” “Cabaret” is a dark concept musical (the first “concept musical,” in fact!) with many, many layers that really was revolutionary in its 1969 inception. If Rodgers and Hammerstein revolutionized the American musical with “Oklahoma!” in 1943 by creating the first fully integrated story using music, dialogue and dance, then Kander and Ebb and director Harold Prince re-revolutionized the form with “Cabaret” by blowing that straightforward storytelling concept to smithereens. “Cabaret” is a show within a show within the head of a central character who is far more passive bystander than objective-oriented story hero. The entire thing is controlled and run by a seedy and somewhat creepy, nameless emcee. And the central female hero of the story is a cabaret performer in 1930s Berlin whose final dilemma revolves around whether she receives an abortion. So I think you could say things have come a damn long way since Nellie Forbush sang about being corny in Kansas! Now, you might be curious as to what makes “Cabaret” a political musical, but that is because the piece is so multi-layered. The most interesting layer of “Cabaret,” for me, has always been about the political circumstances of 1930s Berlin (a highly liberal city) that allowed for the unprecedented rise of Naziism. The city is intentionally presented as a very familiar depiction of an urban liberal bastion where, despite the reigning “It could never happen here” mentality, Naziism eventually takes a sudden and unprecedented hold. The musical ends with the knowledge that those same carefree figures enjoying the good life in the first scene are very likely the first ones to be sent to die in the concentration camps of Hitler. It’s chilling. Perhaps another apropos musical to our 2016 election, but best left untouched for now… As a fun personal note, I have never worked on any production of “Cabaret,” though I have seen several. Every year, when The NOLA Project sends out our year-end audience surveys, we ask for suggestions on future shows people would like to see. Year after year, one patron sends back the request that we produce “Cabaret” with myself as the Emcee. The egotist in me always thinks “What a fine idea!” but the more prudent artistic director always wins out.

“BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON” — Now here is a controversial musical. In fact, I would venture to guess that this musical may never be performed professionally again, despite premiering at the Public Theatre (home of “Hamilton” and “Fun Home,” recently) less than a decade ago. The difficulty and controversy, of course, revolves around the supremely controversial titular character, President Andrew Jackson. Jackson was America’s first populist president, rising to power on the supportive backs of several million Americans who were tired of the elite Washington class ruling everything in government. After losing his first presidential bid to John Quincy Adams (son of the central character in “1776”), Jackson claimed that the election was essentially rigged. (Dear God, the terrifying parallels!) He regrouped, re-energized his base, and defeated Adams four years later in a landslide. And then things got tricky, because, as Jackson tried to please all parties, he ended up directionless, clueless and totally lost. And so the musical represents him as such a man: a childish Emo rockstar. But what makes the musical controversial and essentially unperformable today is in its depiction of indigenous people. Jackson famously maligned several thousand Native Americans, forcing them off of their lands and onto the infamous Trail of Tears. And while the musical certainly depicts these acts and never puts Jackson in anything close to an admirable light for doing so, the Native Americans in the show were played by non-Native performers, both off and on Broadway. In my own local production of the show that I directed during the re-election of Obama in October/November 2012, I admit to practicing the same. But the American Theatre has progressed in many ways since just four years ago, and agency in storytelling has become a major and necessary sticking point for indigenous people. And they have deemed the portrayals in this musical as mostly offensive. So we owe it to them to follow suit. Look, by no means am I ashamed of my work on this show, nor does its present un-performability make me appreciate it any less. I still consider it to be a scathing and hilarious satire of a fascinatingly complicated American figure dealing with a lot of his own neurotic demons. It also features some of the best pop-rock music in the last decade on Broadway. By no means does it glorify Andrew Jackson or his actions. In fact it plainly mocks them and holds presidential incompetence sternly to the fire. But by denying those Americans who have already been denied so much the right to speak for themselves and tell their own version of the story, it oversteps its boundaries. So do yourself a favor and give the cast recording a listen. Because I doubt you’ll see it again.

“PACIFIC OVERTURES” — This is one of those musicals that theater fans mostly know of, but don’t actually know. And I was completely in this camp myself until Jefferson Turner, my good friend and former NOCCA colleague suggested that I direct it with the students at NOCCA in 2013. I was terrified. Wasn’t this Stephen Sondheim’s Kabuki-inspired musical about something in Japan that flopped in the 1970s? Well, the answer is yes! But that is far too ignorant and simplistic of a definition. So I dove in and discovered it to be a rich and complicated examination of the forceful opening of Japan to Western trade by American Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 as told from the Japanese perspective. The music and book, by Sondheim and James Weidman (the same pair behind Assassins) are a detailed depiction of Japanese society as they slowly become Westernized following the visit by Perry and his ships. It has a “Rashomon”-like effect, telling the same story from multiple points of view, leaving the final say so with the audience. Would Japan have been better off left alone, or did America do a great thing by bringing the insular country into great commerce with the rest of the industrializing world? These are questions that we do not ask enough in America, because, to us, if we did it, then of course it was right and good. This musical does not beg to differ, but rather just begs the question. I would encourage everyone reading this to discover it for yourself, as I did three years ago. It is greatly rewarding and intellectually stimulation for those of you that do.

“1776” — Of course. “1776” is, to my mind, the finest book of a musical ever written. Now for those with less of a theater-nerd vocabulary, the “book” of a musical is another way to say the scripted dialogue of the show. In this masterfully crafted musical, there are a mere 11 songs. Today, most two-act musicals have more than 11 songs in each act alone. And yet, the musical is not short of music for any reason. The dialogue, written by Peter Stone, is so sharply crafted, that the show would quite honestly work as a taught and thrilling play on its own terms. The music only adds to the sheer American delight of it all. I discovered the power of this show in a high school U.S. history class in 2001 when my teacher popped the “1776” VHS in for a very skeptical class of jaded and eye-rolling teenagers. Certain that I would be the sole theater-loving student in the room enjoying myself, I remembered watching as every singly student grew uniformly transfixed to the happenings on screen. A singing and dancing Benjamin Franklin was suddenly not a subject for mockery, but a fully formed, randy and hysterical old man who the kids all uniformly loved. The truest mark of its success was the second day of class when we found ourselves half-way through the film and one boy raised his hand to ask “Are we gonna finish the “1776” musical today? I want to know how it ends.” There is the success of this show — you actually sit there in fearful anticipation of how it will end.

Lastly, I would be remiss to leave out mention of the phenomenon that is “Hamilton.” But in all honesty, I do not yet have the knowledge or expertise of any kind to write anything worthwhile about it. I very badly want to experience it in person for myself, and will do so this May in Chicago! Lord, those tickets were hard to get! If the mountains of recommendations I have heard are correct, if all of my good friends are to be trusted, and if the truckload of phenomenal press and awards heaped upon it thus far are to be deemed worthy, then it goes without saying that the political musical list has now been topped by this. And for that I am very excited. To be living in a time when a piece of new theater has such a profound affect on the American public is something to be cherished for an artist like me. So by the time election 2020 rolls around, I hope to have a lot more to say about “Hamilton.”

Until May, I wait in hopeful anticipation.