Terrific New Theatre Reviews Archive



 

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Johnny Guitar

Terrific New Theatre

Reviewed on November 11th, 2006 by Billy Ray Brewton

In the generous potluck that is life, you can always count on Terrific New Theatre to bring plenty of the 'cheese'.  With their recent productions, "Pageant" and "Die, Mommy, Die!", and now with their latest musical opus, "Johnny Guitar", TNT has once again managed to produce a hilarious, offbeat and campy piece of theatre, one of the brightest to come around in a long time.  Thanks to, largely, a stellar cast and group of musicians, "Johnny Guitar" is pretty much tops in musical theatre in the Birmingham area right now.  You'll be hard-pressed to find a better night of entertainment.

     Based on the classic Western starring Joan Crawford, "Johnny Guitar" has been a cult favorite for years and was developed into a musical in 2004, winning major theatre awards and becoming quite a smash hit off-Broadway.  The story tells of the owner of a casino and saloon, Vienna (Jan D. Hunter), whose life is turned upside down when an old 'acquaintance', Johnny Guitar (S. Michael Wilson) breezes into town, and when her 'acquaintance' The Dancin' Kid (Larry Slater) is accused of murder by the wealthiest woman in town, Emma (Flannery Miles).  The musical follows the storyline of the film perfectly, with the same sexual undertones and campy one-liners that has turned the film version into an underrated classic.  The cast is rounded out by David Garrett, Chuck Duck, David Rosen, Matt Morris and Scott Thorne. 

     Whenever Jan D. Hunter takes the stage, it is always a delight, and "Johnny Guitar" is the perfect musical to showcase her numerous talents as a performer.  It's as if the role of Vienna were written especially for her, and she crackles with energy in each and every scene.  As Johnny Guitar, S. Michael Wilson delivers impeckable vocals, coupled with the Sterling Hayden-esque quality – not the John Wayne quality – needed for the role.  Larry Slater provided excellent support, especially in the area of the dance, as The Dancin' Kid, and he brilliantly captures the rampant homosexual undertones evident in the film and the script.  As Emma, Flannery Miles is Mercedes McCambridge.  Her body movements, her facial expressions, and her vocal mannerisms are spot-on, and fans of the film will likely appreciate the hell out of that.  In terms of the supporting roles, most of which play numerous characters, David Garrett is impossible not to watch as McIvers, his tumbleweed dialect pitch-perfect and his comic timing hard to match.

     There are a few flaws in the production, most of which are not the fault of the director or the cast of the show.  The set looked very crowded many times – set pieces were everywhere, and it just seemed like the production might have been too big a scale for the space, or maybe some of the set pieces could have been done away with altogether.  I also had a problem with the actors playing so many dual roles, especially at times when some of the actors don't even changes clothes, and just come back on in the same attire, as different characters.  This was confusing to both myself and the people who accompanied me to the production.  Otherwise, "Johnny Guitar" is worth the ticket price, hands down.  Highlights are S. Michael Wilson's Act 2 "Tell Me A Lie" – the best number in the show, Jan D. Hunter's gorgeous "Welcome Home", and the Act 1 delight "Santa Fe".  Terrific New Theatre and Carl Stewart have hit the nail on the head once more, and you'll have quite a nice time. 


 

Die! Mommie! Die!  at Terrific New Theatre

Reviewed on September 7th, 2006 by Billy Ray Brewton

The laughs hit hard at TNT's production of Charles Busch's hilarious "Die! Mommie! Die!", from the author of the ever-so-popular "Psycho Beach Party".  Terrific New Theatre is the only theatre in town that could get away with a show as campy and unbelievable as this one, and they do it with the same kind of panache that made shows like "Sordid Lives" and "Southern Baptist Sissies" so successful.  "Die! Mommie! Die" is the funniest Birmingham show of the year!
     Saxon Murrell stars as Angela Anders, a once popular actress and singer who now finds that her voice cracks on all her favorite high notes.  Her daughter, Edith (Melissa Bush) hates her, but has an unhealthy obsession with her own father.  Tony Parker (Chuck Duck) is the local tennis pro who teaches Angela how to swing, and how to do 'other things' as well.  They have been having affair behind the back of Angela's domineering Jewish producer husband Sol (Barry Austin), who also happens to have serious constipation problems.  Enter Lance (S. Michael Wilson), Angela's mildly-retarded hippie son, and Bootsie (Nell Richardson), the family maid who sounds like a cross between Dixie Carter and Aunt Jemima -- and you have an evening of non-stop hilarity and the same kind of campy melodrama that would make Sandy Dennis proud!
     Let's start with the set, which is perfectly tacky and looks like the living room from "The Golden Girls" -- it screams late-60's cheese and it looks amazing.  The staging of the show is simple in that all seven scenes take place in the living room, but we are treated with everything from a brawl, to a medical procedure, to an acid trip that would make The Grateful Dead smile.  At what other theatre could you see a giant suppository come to attack someone? 
     Now, to the performances.  I loved the way in which all of the actors knew exactly what they were doing -- they all knew what kind of piece this was, and they tackled it brilliantly.  Saxon Murrell is radiant as Angela Anders, producing some of the most memorable facial expressions from any show I have seen -- they scream "Joan Collins!"  Barry Austin is hilarious, with a fine Jewish accent, as Sol Sussman.  Chuck Duck 'mans it up' for the role of Tony Parker, and when he walks in Act Two with his various ensemble changes, it is a real riot.  Melissa Bush stole the show as daughter Edith, with her hair and her clothes and her voice and her everything.  Nell Richardson was just what Bootsie needed, and she handled herself admirably amongst all the camp and the cheese.  And, S. Michael Wilson (despite the wig) was quite nice as Lance, the hippie son who bangs his head on tables and sometimes screams for no reason.  He and Bush had nice chemistry on stage and they really add a lot to the acid trip sequence.
     All in all, "Die! Mommie! Die!" left me in hysterics.  Watch for what I refer to as 'the scissor scene'.  I was literally bowled over in my seat, in pain from laughter.  I found Act One to be better constructed than Act Two, but both acts are thoroughly enjoyable.  I recommend this to anyone who wants a side-splitting night of theatre, to anyone who has tasted what TNT has to offer and wants more, and to anyone who wants to try out a new kind of theatre from what they might be use to.  This isn't Neil Simon.  It's "Lost In Yonkers" with acid and pastilles.


 

A … My Name Will Always Be Alice  at Terrific New Theatre

Reviewed on November 10th,, 2005 by Billy Ray Brewton

In its twentieth season, Terrific New Theatre is coming out swinging.  After leveling audiences with its ferocious Southern comedy "Dearly Departed", TNT has transferred its creative energies to the world of women and feminism with the musical revue, "A...My Name Will Always Be Alice", a culmination of the previous two "Alice" shows.  The production is a collection of songs, poetry, and comedic skits, all celebrating women throughout the years.  The cast of five are diligent and up to the task, igniting the stage with their collective wits and talents.  True -- not all of the cast share a songbird's voice, but what they lack in voice they make up for with incredible fire and obvious passion for the stage.  "Low, low, middle, middle, high, high"...and away we go...

The cast includes TNT veterans Melissa Bush, Chalethia Williams and Pam Elder, along with newcomers Rachel Weaver and Melodie Norman.  The musical number "All Girls Band" gets the show off to a rip-roaring good start and there is rarely a dull moment that follows.  Highlights of the show included:  Melissa Bush's sweet and low-key delivery with "I Sure Like the Boys", using her facial expression and gestures, rather than her vocals, to deliver the message of the song; "Watching All the Pretty Young Men", the definite show-stopper, with three woman paying a visit to an all male revue; Chalethia Williams and Melissa Bush's hilarious and crude "Honeypot"; and, the sporadic poems read to the audience by Pam Elder, who also has one hell of a well-delivered monologue in Act Two.

If you're looking for an all-around enjoyable evening, you'll be hard pressed to find a show more entertaining than "A...My Name Will Always Be Alice".  It is not a perfect show...a couple of the skits and musical numbers are a little trying, but for the most part, this show is fun, upbeat, and a perfect addition to TNT's twentieth season here in Birmingham.  Between "Dearly Departed" and "A...My Name Will Always Be Alice", it's hard to imagine how this season could get much better for TNT.


john and jen
at the Terrifc New Theatre
Reviewed June 11, 2004 by Jonathan Goldstein

 

If you have ever been a brother or sister or mother or son, then you will surely relate to the themes explored in TNT’s two-person musical, john and jen. And, if you’ve never been any of those things, it means that you were a female without siblings. Well, even you only-child daughters should be able to relate to this show, as its themes are universal, and relate to life, love, happiness, sadness, confusion, and all of the other emotions that every one of us have experienced.

Set from the 1950s through the 1990s, john and jen follows the lives of three people - John, Jen and John. John and Jen, the brother and sister, start out as children and grow up throughout the first act. In doing so, they experience all of the trials and tribulations of childhood, family, adolescence and the challenges of becoming an adult. In the second act, Jen is now a mother, and her son is John. Trying to reconcile, through her son, the lost relationship with her brother, Jen tries to lead John down a path that she now believes to be the right one.

Adrienne Reid and Walter Allen play the roles of Jen and John brilliantly. They remain on-stage the entire show, singing together throughout. From childhood to adolescence, to adulthood, their characters remain real and believable throughout the show. With pure voices, wonderful physicality and true reactions, both Reid and Allen own the show, and connect with the audience on many levels. Their happiness, confusion, frustration, excitement and sadness are all recognizable and familiar to anyone who has experienced those emotions, through childhood, family, relationships, love and loss. It’s a story about life, and it is executed wonderfully. Since the show only lasts about an hour and a half, including intermission, the forty year span is presented almost like a connect-the-dots, but the dots are very easily connected in the audience’s minds, and everything flows very well. Although the set consists of three boxes, two chairs and little else, we can always see the characters’ surroundings with no problem, because the actors are living in those surroundings, and everything makes perfect sense. The choreography was lively and helped the story move along, and the three-man orchestra performed without flaws.

While no show is perfect, john and jen has very few noticeable problems. It is wonderfully directed and acted. This is a show with its fun moments and serious moments; there is laughter and smiles, as well as sadness and tears. While this chamber musical might not be for everyone, it is surely for anyone who enjoys a good story with good music and good acting. Another wonderful show by TNT.


Little Mary Sunshine at Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed May 8, 2003 by Leonard Jowers

     Funny, funny show. A Dudley Do-Right kind of farce. The plot is truly complex so I'll refer you to the official website of the Broadway production for the storyline, http://www.littlemarysunshine-bway.com
     Thank you Celeste Burnham (Little Mary Sunshine) and Barry Austin (Captain "Big Jim" Warrington) for wonderful performances.   For me, you made the show.  In a show with so much silliness and occasionally less than stellar acting, your vocals were as beautiful as one could want.  It was great and difficult acting to be so silly and yet so good.  And yet, let me not offend the Forest Rangers and the Ladies from the Eastchester Finishing School.  They were so very funny.
     If you are in for an entertaining Off-Off-Broadway calibre show with a couple of outstanding performances, be sure to see this one.



The Big Bang at Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed January 18, 2003 by Valerie Whitfield

    This was an incredibly fast-moving evening of theatre.  While the show ran under 90 minutes, it actually seemed much shorter.  This swiftness is even more impressive when the subject matter of the show is taken into account; the show tells the history of the universe since the very beginning of time.  The two leads play hopeful producers who are trying to pitch this show (a musical, no less) about the history of time to a room-full of potential investors (the audience).  As the entire history of the universe would be far too lengthy, the two men present only selected songs from their show. 
    While fast, The Big Bang was entirely enjoyable, and obviously took a great deal of practice and talent to pull off successfully.  The cast consisted of only Cris Morriss and Dane Peterson as the producers, and Jay Tuminello as their piano player who offers occasional assists with props or sound effects.  All three of these men were obviously very talented.  Neither of the two producers have much time off-stage, while Tuminello remain onstage for the duration of the show.  Since the characters are supposedly pitching a show that they themselves will not be acting in, the obviously talented actors must act badly, which is always much harder than it sounds.  The men do a fabulous job with this and constantly have the audience laughing.  A clever script, wonderfully funny acting, and a great set (in which almost literally no piece of scenery goes unused as a prop or costume piece during some song) all come together to create a very well-done and enjoyable show. 


Sanders Family Christmas at Terrific New Theater (Parable Players)
Reviewed November 29, 2002 by Frank Thompson

     If tickets can be had, it would definitely be worth your while to check out Sanders Family Christmas running the next 2 weekends at TNT. Directed by Norton and Lani Dill, this heart-warming sequel to Smoke on the Mountain will be sure to delight the entire family. The overall atmosphere is one of warmth and Chrstmas cheer. My party arrived without reservations, and we had to stand by on a waiting list, but TNT director Carl Stewart made sure everyone got seated in a literally packed house. Stewart's friendliness and joviality added to the evening before the show even started. 
     The set is simple and VERY effective. Raw wooden planks and simple "country church" architecture immediately set the action in a tiny mountain church, around the start of World War II. Kudos to the set designer.
     The cast is wonderfully talented, without a single weak link. W. Scott Sewart's Rev. Oglethorpe is a particular standout, walking the thin line of hilarity between parody and camp. he walks it well, and succeeds in creating a believable yet hysterical character. His performance is a delight. Another highlight among the cast is June Mee as Denise Sanders. June's magnificent singing voice would strengthen any show, but she also gets to show off her acting skills in Sanders Family Christmas. (PS: Great
wig!)
     The script, for those who are familiar with Smoke on the Mountain, is a bit more sentimental and less side-splitting, but that's okay. This is a Christmas show, and we want a little more sentiment at this time of year. Believe me,there are still plenty of laughs.
     Please note that the show begins at 8:00 (NOT 7:30) my friends and I had to leave at intermission to arrive on time for dinner reservations we made, thinking the performance began at 7:30. This is, however, a blessing in disguise as it allows me to make the strongest endorsement I can make for Sanders. I am definitely going back to try and catch the second act. It's just that good.
     So...take the whole family and see Sanders Family Christmas. Get there early, and get on the waiting list, and hopefully you'll get in. 


When Pigs Fly at Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed September 14, 2001 by Beeklie

     This play sets the precedent for all the other plays showing this fall.  I do not know if I have ever had this much fun at performance before; the script was hysterical, the costumes were over the top, and the actors shined.   Wit is not all this play has to offer though. Despite its light-hearted atmosphere there are some pretty heavy messages that are delicately said throughout the play.  I really recommend seeing this show. 
     The actor that radiated through out the show was Thom Satterfield.  He plays the Queen of Queens in all the skits and never walks on stage without the audience immediately laughing.  Thom's mannerisms and overall stage presence carries him through the play at an elevated level.  It is almost as though he carries the show, but this is not possible because the other actors step up to his brilliance on stage and help him lead the audience. 
     Lonnie Parsons plays Howard Crabtree.  For those who do not know who Howard Crabtree was, he was a costume designer from New York that was known for his extravagant costume designs.  This play was written in part by Howard Crabtree and finished right before his death.  Howard Crabtree has the scenes that incorporate the plot of the show.  Lonnie Parsons plays a great Howard.  He shows the stress of being in control of the show.  Lonnie takes the show to its fullest extent as he dances big and smiles bigger.  His voice also carries beautifully.  Lonnie's Hawaiian Wedding where he is dressed as a sailor and plays a ukalele showed his ability to man the stage, no pun intended, on his own.  The comfort Lonnie presents on stage made him a powerful performer in this play. 
     George Milton was part of one of my favorite scenes, Not All Man.  Actually this is a solo of sorts except for the Lonnie's appearance as a horse's ass.  George handled all his scenes wonderfully.  It had to be hard to maintain character with the audience hooting and laughing so much.  This scene brought me to tears, laughing tears.  George never broke up or lost it through out any of his "sidesplitting"  parts.  George's song Sam and Me was one of the more serious scenes in the play, although it was not too serious.  He played his parts very well. 
     Then there is Royce G. Garrison. Royce really radiated in his performance of Bigger is Better.  This song is probably one of the more famous clips of the entire play.  He looked like an extraordinary Marilyn Monroe.  His facial expressions and walk won the audience over.  He swung his hips big and smiled bigger, this song could have been made just for him to perform.  I also remember his part in Shaft of Love being excellent. 
     Daniel E. Richey had a series of cocktail love songs where he sat and professed his love to several well known Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and, the funniest, Rush Limbaugh.  These songs lit the audience into an up roar.  Daniel also had the only scene to silence the audience.  I cried as he addressed the terrible events of today.  Although the song was not meant to go along with the World Trade Center and Pentagon Terrorist events it fit the moment perfectly.  It addressed the need for laughter in times like today, the song was Laughing Matters.  I feel as if the entire audience felt the stiff but reassuring air that the song's message had to give.  Daniel's delivery of this hard tune was perfect.  I also have to mention Baby Jane's Crossover, Daniel made this best Baby Jane.  You could hear the audience chuckle roar as each figured out that he in fact was supposed to be Baby Jane.  It was great. 
     As for the Company, all these men performed wonderfully together.  I fell asleep humming Wear Your Vanity With Pride.  This was one of the best performances the whole company gave through out the show.  Everyone should find the time to go see this play.  Carl Stewart did a marvelous job bringing this performance together.  It was amazing.  The costumes are on loan and are actually Howard Crabtree's designs.  These are the costumes he had planned for the production, which makes the play even more perfect. 
     I encourage every one to go see this performance of Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly.  It may be the best play you have seen in a while.


Inside Out at Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed April 6, 2001 by Beeklie

     Another good time was had at TNT Friday night with the production of Inside Out.  Despite the difficult script, Carl Stewart brings this play to life.  Inside Out has a tendency to be wordy and uneventful; through great directing, excellent casting, and perfect musical accompaniment this play shined Friday night. 
     The setting is modern day and almost all the scenes take place in the same room.  Six women struggle through their problems and try to help each other in Group Therapy.  When the women do exercises in Group they use role playing.  Often they break into song, which is one of the best parts of the play.  Parts of the play do get cattish as the women play games of talking behind each other's back.  The point of these games is to expose the hidden problems in the group members. 
     The casting of this production impressed me.  The voices of all the actresses worked well together and alone.  Most of my favorite parts were solos.  As for the highlight of the show, Celeste Burnum and Tam Debolt take Down Center.  Their performance of "Yo, Chlo"  came together well.  This rap song, which has its own feel from the other songs, could be impossible to pull off if not approached just right.  Burnum  controlled the rap of that song while DeBolt kept the story moving around her.  Working on a song such as this could not have been easy, but these two make it appear to be a breeze. 
     Another one of my favorites was "I don't say anything," nailed by Jennifer Foreman.  Foreman plays Sage, a cosmic star follower that can  not go through the day without consulting her cards.  I related to this  number. I felt during the entire play that Sage was the most  interesting role and most developed character of the  production.  Foreman created a nervous youthful girl, always nipping at  her finger nails and fidgeting.  Sage is the youngest and most naive of  all the other characters, which makes the role very interesting. 
     Kristin Staskowski played Grace the group leader. She starts to fear the loss of her sanity because of the women she helps in Group.  "Grace's Nightmare" is a number consisting of Staskowski's strong voice and the rest of the cast tormenting her with their trivial problems.  These problems range from being overweight to failing at being a rock star.  Molly, portrayed by Andrea Brown Hubbert, seems to have the most absurd problems.  She is a new house wife that can not seem to get the baby weight off.  In return for her self-consciousness, and uncalled-for distress, her husband has lost interest in her and flirts with other women.  Although these women might appear to be weak at the start of the play, by the second act these ladies are not taking any more crap. 
     The last of the six cast members is Kimberly Kirklin.  I liked her character from the very first group meeting.  Kirklin successfully pulled off the image of Liz, the tough as nails corporate business  women.  By the end of the play I began to see the characters emerging.  They were all taking on characteristics of one another.  For  instance, Sage, the passive unaggressive one, stands up for herself and  admits to her anger in the second act.  In the first act only Liz and Chlo had the courage to stand up for themselves. 
     Inside Out is a great empowering production for women.  It points out how women can get so caught up in their ideal image of perfection that they end up loosing the ability to have fun.  "If you really loved me" done by the whole company once, and solo by Chlo once, blatantly screams absurd.  Though women may want some of those things, many are overexaggerated in the song so that  the listener says, "they are being ridiculous."  As women are sometimes in their dreams of perfection, this play depicts just how ridiculous a woman can be; it also shows how upset not reaching ideals can make a woman. Inside Out is a great sneak preview into the minds of angry and confused women. 


 



Sweet and Hot:  The Songs of Harold Arlen at Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed September 8, 2000 by Leonard J. Jowers

     The title would have you think that this was a musical review.  In a way, it is. It is more than that.  But let me say up front, it is nicely done.  I'll come back to the plot. 
     Jan D. Hunter (Sheila) and Carl Dean (Jimmy) were excellent, but Jan skews the curve if there is one.  The atmosphere at the TNT is right for this show.  You are close, and the singers finesse the songs in ways you do not normally get to hear.  The arrangements are very interesting, but not easily sung.  That makes it all the more delightful to hear them done well.  Brad Simmons (Thelton) provides wonderful accompaniment throughout and lightness to the show.  It is a solid show musically in which all of the cast contributes.  Dane Peterson's Line Johnson, Barry Austin's Bear, and Will Roger's C.W. are good support and standouts in one way or another.  The set was a contribution too. 
     It is an American opera with an American theme.  Set in a bar, I imagined on the outskirts of town, the play explores the relationships among the players in an effective and pleasing, yet somehow unsettling way.  Unsettling for this patron, perhaps not for others, perhaps just earthy. Sheila and Jimmy make it through the night.  I liked it.  It did what I look for in a live performance.  It entertained and made me think about the story being presented.  In print, it's a love story.  The many facets to the story brought out by the actors, make it the interesting show it is.  The story line, the music, the songs, the quality of the performance were all good. 
     It is not an uplifting musical comedy, but it is also not a dark musical.  I do not see how anyone can go wrong on this one.  Go see this one.  I think you will consider it memorable  ... and good. 



Birmingham News, September 9, 2000 by Pam Morse.

 


Six Women with Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want To Know at Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed June 24, 2000 by Leonard J. Jowers

     I knew the day would come when I would see a play I did not like, but the audience loved.  Tonight was the night. It must have been me. This is a collage of vaudeville skits, parts of some of them very funny. The first act relied much too heavily on gutter language (which incidentally our audience loved).  As a musical, by direction or scoring I do not know, it fell very short.  It is a very animated piece of work; the choreography was entertaining. 
     As the title indicates, "expiring minds want to know", the topics appear to be right out of the tabloids.  The topics are used to create a satire on several issues, some important, some not so important.  Most of the fun is poked at the superficial interests of homebody women, men and sexual relationships, Republicans, and everyone's adolescent interest in what went on between Ken and Barbie. 
     The six actresses in the play are talented, and it does show, especially in the individual vocals and individual acting.  Tam deBolt, Helen Gassenheimer, Cari Gisler, Ellise P. Mayor, Jennifer Price, and Laura Liveakos Colatrella make up the cast. 
     There was enough meat in the production to keep it from ever being boring, but I often found myself watching the audience as much as watching the actresses. The audience loved it. 



Birmingham News, June 24, 2000 by Pam Morse.

 


The Widow's Mite, and Other Stories at the Terrific New Theatre
Reviewed May 19, 2000 by Leonard Jowers

     If the story is good, but the delivery is not, you will not be impressed.  Dolores Hydock was excellent.  It's a one woman show and Dolores had us.  Again, I'm sorry you that if you have not seen this one, it closes May 20th.  The stories expose and poke fun at several Southern and especially Baptist mores, but good and insightful fun. 
     The first act is a funny and realistic presentation of Mrs. John George Higbee's thought processes about her tithing of $125,000 of insurance money from her husband's accidental death. The story is an intricate unfolding of Southern logic.  The second act is about Myrtice and contains multiple story lines.   The first is about justice, and how the Southern gal saw that it was done in spite of the law.  A second story is about sex from a Southern woman's point of view.  Riding on top of all of that, is a story about malpractice and compensation.  Even though this may not all make sense here, it does when Hydock tells it.  Like most good plays, it gives you a lot to think about. 
     There must have been a lot of Baptists there tonight, because the audience loved it.  And the women were almost rolling in the aisles in the second act.  It's a good show, by Ferrol Sams, directed by Carl Stewart, designed by Vernon Push.

 


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