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posted Thursday, October 17, 2013

Critics are raving about PFAMILY ARTS’ production of Drood

Lawson Taitte – DALLAS MORNING NEWS:
"PFAMILY ARTS’ new version features fine performances from some of our most talented singing actors."
"Under director William R. Park the performers act as well as they sing."
"Linda Leonard as the Princess Puffer, the proprietor of an opium den, gets that mix of sultriness and menace just right."
"Perhaps the outstanding performance comes from Smith as Drood. She projects a dapper masculinity in her scenes with Rosa. In her final number, "The Writing on the Wall," you almost think you are listening to the creator of the role, Texas’ own Betty Buckley. What bigger compliment could you give someone in the musical theater?"

Phil Cerroni – THEATRE JONES:
"McNay’s performance as the Moor, Neville Landless, stands out, however. His mannerisms, hand gestures and liberal use of the evil eye are absolutely delightful and embrace the spirit of this self-aware melodrama."
"It is a testament to William R. Park’s direction that no guiding hand is evident besides Campbell’s duties as master of ceremonies. Park successfully turns the actors into a discombobulated group of cockneys and then set them loose."
"Drood creates an experience that feels like what a 21st century audience would expect from a 19th century pantomime and music hall."
"If none of the elements come together to make a compelling drama, they do construct a fascinating show."
"…the cast absolutely revels in the mistakes that make serious theater bad. But somehow, by doing this, they elevate the action through a sacrilegious catharsis similar to what Medieval morality plays, like Johan Johan, used to sanctify the religious themes that they mocked."
"Make no mistake; this is an ambitious musical. It is Poor Broadway at its best and relies on a shared experience between the cast and audience, not handy dialogue or a grand scenic design, for its success. And although the play may not appeal to diehard musical fiends or plot junkies, this production breaks down the barrier between actors and audience, offering a glimpse of an honest, shared experience."

Eric Bird – John Garcia’s THE COLUMN:
"The Chairman, or the presenter at the theatre, was impressively played by Bradley Campbell."
"Campione was very creepy and villainous."
"Sarah Smith was fantastic in her portrayal of Edwin Drood."
"Harrison truly does have an amazing voice. The ease with which she performed was admirable."
"Linda Leonard gave an incredible performance as The Princess Puffer."
"I highly recommend this play as the skills of the actors will impress, and the story will pull you in. The whole show will have you laughing heartily but also intrigued by the mystery."

 

posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TheaterJones Reviews Side Show

Photo of PFAMILY Art’s Production of Side Show Photo of PFAMILY Art’s Production of Side Show Photo of PFAMILY Art’s Production of Side Show

Photos by Fermiant Photography

Love Them As They Are

PFAMILY ARTS in Plano scores a hit with its production of Side Show, about conjoined twins in the 1930s.

Show business scuttlebutt is that Side Show will be given a "reimagined" production in 2014. Meanwhile, you’re encouraged to savor PFamily Arts’ vibrant staging of this musical in its original 1997 form.

Musically, Side Show is very nearly an opera. Many passages of dialogue are sung through, and the tragic-comic aspects of the story are decidedly operatic, as are some of the counterpoint duets.

Author and lyricist Bill Russell scripted from real life. Twins Daisy are Violet Hilton, conjoined at the hip since birth, are displayed as freaks in a sleazy 1930s side show when a producer rescues them and molds them into a class act. Violet and Daisy become the toast of vaudeville, then are featured in a Ziegfeld-like follies. But they cannot enjoy fully the fruits of stardom. Press and public still regard them as freaks, and a “normal” life of marriage and family seems prohibited by their state of perpetual togetherness ─ a dilemma depicted whimsically in a cute song and dance number, “When I’m By Your Side,” and poignantly in “I Will Never Leave You.”

The shimmering novas of the PFamily production are Mallory Michaellann as the flirty, outgoing Daisy and Jad Saxton as the more reserved Violet. Director William R. Park’s challenge here was to find similar looking actresses of the same height. Oh, and they needed to be dynamite singers. Park hit the casting bull’s eye with all three shots.

Saxton and Michaellan deliver the goods on a delightfully cheesy “We Share Everything” and a quaintly dated “Rare Singbirds on Display.” The latter features the entire talented company and is a glittering showcase for costume designer Kristin Moore.

Babakoyode Ipaye flexes singing and acting muscles as Jake, the side show performer and ramrod whose adoration for Violet is, alas, forbidden love. He and Saxton duet achingly on “You Should Be Loved.” And Ipaye shakes the rafters on the gospel-esque “The Devil You Know,” with strong vocal underpinning from the ensemble.

Thomas E. Cunningham plays the remarkably evil side show boss almost like a melodrama villain. But he pulls it off in grand style, opening the show with the Sondheim-like “Come Look at the Freaks” and later telling the twins’ rescuers that they must be “Crazy, Deaf and Blind.”

Those saviors of Daisy and Violet are Buddy (Sam Beasley), a vaudeville performer and vocal coach, and Terry (Greg Hullett), a publicist turned producer. Each man is attracted to one of the twins. It’s mutual, as Michaellan and Hullett demonstrate with soaring voices on “Private Conversation” and the rather more direct “Marry Me, Terry.”

Musical director Mark Mullino interprets the score of Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls) winningly with a mere trio: himself and Sharon Bailey on keyboards, Jay Majernik on percussion. Choreographer Kelly Holmes adapts well to the curious challenge of designing dance numbers for dancers who are always side by side. 

 

posted October 1st, 2012

FrontRow® reviews Side Show

Photo of PFAMILY Art’s Production of Side Show

Photos via

Theater Review: Carnivalesque Musical Sidesteps Freakshow With Magnificent Voices

Before Side Show begins at Pfamily Arts in Plano, the audience is faced with large-scale vintage-style carnival posters advertising the attractions: the Bearded Lady, the chicken-mauling Geek, the Cannibal King. Adding sound effects—a barker luring potential customers, or perhaps an organ lilting a carefree tune—would have further established the atmosphere of a 1930’s traveling carnival. This neglected opportunity is perhaps the only misstep in an otherwise stunning production of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s 1997 cult musical, for once the cast members assemble on the set’s bleachers to sing the opening number “Come Look at the Freaks,” the audience is in for a roller coaster ride.

The true story of Violet and Daisy Hilton, sisters literally joined at the hip who were born in England at the turn of the century, is a fascinating one, but until Krieger and Russell loosely developed their tale into a musical few people in the modern era knew who they were. The musical played briefly on Broadway, but the unfamiliar subject matter and potential for grotesqueness kept audiences largely at bay. Of course, this was long before TLC struck gold with shows such as “Abby & Brittany” (about conjoined twins), “Little People, Big World” (about a family with dwarfism), and “The 650 Lb. Virgin” (I think you can get that one on your own).

The Hilton sisters begin the musical as teenaged freak show acts before being whisked away by talent scout Terry and performer Buddy. Elevated from carnival poverty to vaudeville stardom practically overnight, the girls juggle their newfound fame with the burgeoning feelings they have for their rescuers. They also, quite poignantly, discover the uncomfortable realities of their biological situation and the world’s true interest in their “talents.”

The Side Show that Pfamily Arts presents doesn’t dwell on the bizarre; instead, it wisely showcases the magnificent voices of its strong cast. From company-led numbers such as “The Devil You Know” and the aforementioned “Freaks” to more intimate songs like “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” and “You Should Be Loved,” the cast uniformly displays a confidence of sound and passion of performance. “Leave Me Alone,” an acidly funny duet demonstrating the girls’ at-times frustrating situation, is especially strong.

Thomas E. Cunningham, a former national tour Phantom of the Opera, is gleefully terrifying as the sideshow’s drunken, manipulative boss. He has plenty of opportunity to showcase his soaring tenor, and the unpredictable layer to his acting keeps the tension running high. On the other hand, Sam Beasley is adorable as the keen song-and-dance man—and later Hilton sister groom—Buddy Foster. His eager-beaver charm and enthusiastic delivery of both songs and scenes is endearing without veering into annoying.

Unfortunately, Greg Hullett pales in comparison to both Cunningham and Beasley. He’s not nearly slick or impassioned enough as Terry Connor, the sisters’ business manager and Daisy’s dream man. His big solo, “Private Conversation,” is musically solid but lacks any sense of direction. With the rest of the cast so invested in this haunting world, his lightweight performance sticks out painfully.

And what about the twins? As Daisy and Violet, Mallory Michaellann and Jad Saxton are committed to presenting a united front with distinctively individual performances. As in the original production, there are no tricks used to keep the girls connected. The actresses simply stand, sit, walk, and dance while pressed side by side, appearing to effortlessly maintain the link. Michaellann coaxes out Daisy’s vivacious nature while Saxton plays up Violet’s cautious prissiness, and their voices blend together beautifully.

Director William R. Park, an understudy for the role of Buddy in the original Broadway workshop of Side Show, clearly has a deep connection with the material. That profound fervor is reflected in his cast, who truly seem to understand the show’s central theme:  We all feel like freaks sometimes.

 


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