Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Read what an Emmy winner has to say about "Angel"

The ACT blog specializes in bringing you bits and pieces of inside information about our theatre. But we don't know how to write reviews. So when it comes to giving expert opinions on performances, we turn to ... the experts.

Today we received a stellar review bit on ACT's upcoming show Return of an Angel from Patricia Green. Patricia has won three Emmys (yes, Emmys!) as a writer/producer for "L.A. Law," "China Beach," and "Cagney & Lacey." When we receive a review from an Emmy winner, we feel it's something we must share. Here's what Patricia has to say:

"Return of an Angel is a glorious play – funny, moving, thought provoking and enormously entertaining. The acting is first-rate, the direction flawless and the music an unexpected treasure. If you’ve ever passed the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and wondered what he was like, go see Return of an Angel. It will make you so proud of Asheville and the world-class writer our town inspired."

Return of an Angel is an Occasional Theatre production. It premieres on the ACT Mainstage on October 2 and runs through October 11.

Peter Pan "coloring contest" winners!

Last week ACT teamed with the Citizen-Times to host a Peter Pan coloring contest; we are now ready to announce the talented winners.

Drum roll please....

Rachel Tervo - age 6
Tajtiane Zarlenga - age 7
Summer Fuller - age 7
Francesca Hattaway - age 8 (featured artist)
Cecilia Dellasavia - age 8
Rebekah Fals - age 6
Ethan Thimme - age 8

Winners have been invited to the final performance of Peter Pan this Sunday, September 27, where they will have the opportunity to appear on stage with the cast!

Thanks to everyone who participated.

The final weekend of Peter Pan is almost here! Join us for one final magical performance.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Meet Brenda Lilly of Occasional Theatre

News flash: For the third straight year ACT is teaming with the award-winning Occasional Theatre to produce Return of an Angel, a powerful play by Sandra Mason that explores the "love-hate" relationship Asheville had with its most famous son, Thomas Wolfe.

Brenda Lilly and her husband Michael co-founded Occasional Theatre in Los Angeles in 1998. Their initial production, Elephant Sighs, earned several awards; since then they have produced plays all over the country. Now they have brought their theatre back to Asheville where Brenda grew up.

Brenda was nice enough to join me for breakfast last Thursday to discuss Occasional Theatre and "Angel." Check out the highlights from our Q & A.

You've produced plays all over the country. How did you settle on Asheville as a home for OT?

I grew up in Asheville and wanted to come back to be closer to my family. It was always 'home' even when we were living and working in L.A. and New York. And it's always been a theatre-loving community. From Tanglewood to ACT to a variety of acting troupes that would appear here every summer at the Flat Rock and Parkway Playhouses -- Asheville has always had a flair for the dramatic. And as a television writer, I can work from anywhere now, thanks to technology -- I even wrote a series for Russian television from here! So why not place our theatre in every blog's most 'desirable' place to live -- that also happens to be my hometown!

This is the third time you will team with ACT for "Angel," and there are obvious links between Asheville and Return of an Angel. What do you think makes this show so special?

Asheville has a really unique history and this play explores and celebrates that history. This play is not only about Thomas Wolfe, it's about this city, its people, the power of celebrity and gossip, and the difficulties of an artist's life. It also explores the relationship Wolfe had with his family, often in humorous ways. But there is a tenderness and a love for Asheville that permeates Sandra Mason's play. And that's very special. It's also important that Thomas Wolfe's work is honored as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Look Homeward, Angel.

Tell us about some of the cast members of the show.
Tom Dalton plays Thomas Wolfe. He's from the eastern part of NC and is a marvelous actor and a dead-ringer for Wolfe! Maggie Marshall is from Los Angeles and we knew her and her work from our days on the West Coast. Stephen Moore is from Greensboro and has worked with Michael on several plays and we were delighted that he came on board to play Fred Wolfe. We saw Carla Pridgen as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz at ACT. She was the first person we thought of to play Julia -- not that Julia was a wicked witch! I went to college with Joanna Beck who plays Margaret Roberts. And we had open auditions and found Tiffany Cade, who plays Lola Love, and Randy McCracken, who plays George McCoy. I met Diane LaSpada at All Souls and thought she would be perfect as the 'Book Club' friend -- and she is!

Can you share with us a Did you Know? fun fact about the show?
Sonny Bell plays Max Perkins, the acclaimed Scribner's editor who 'discovered' Thomas Wolfe and had the very difficult job of editing Wolfe's enormous manuscripts. Audiences may remember Sony as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

One of OT's goals is to seek out compelling plays to produce. How do you decide which shows to produce, and what's on the horizon for the rest of the year for you?

Michael has developed strong relationships with many writers and actors over the years at various theatres. He has a great respect for them and they love to work with him -- he's really gifted as a dramaturge. Now, we're fortunate enough to get first shot at their plays. If we feel we're in a position to produce it, we contact our actors who know how much fun it is to work on a new play with Michael and can't say no to him. We've got two pieces written by Jan Powell and Ken Stone, a children's musical and a dark tale of local interest -- also a musical -- that we're hoping to produce this coming year. We've also got a play by Patricia Green that's a new take on Shakespeare, a mystery by Peter Colley, and a family comedy by Sybil Rosen. Ed Simpson, who is 'playwright-in-residence' for Occasional Theatre, has a wonderful play about the Greensboro sit-in by A&T students that we're very interested in producing here. So we hope to have a full plate coming up.

Return of an Angel
premieres on the ACT Mainstage on Friday, October 2 and runs through October 11. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30pm, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30pm. Reserve your tickets today!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Peter Pan ... Did you know?

After a phenomenal first weekend of Peter Pan performances on the ACT mainstage, we caught up again with director Jerry Crouch for some "little know facts" about Peter Pan. Jerry, as usual, delivered in fine form. So here they are, straight from the "walking encyclopedia of musical theatre's" mouth ....

Peter Pan
... Did you know?

1. James Barrie "invented" the name "Wendy." It was a mispronunciation by a little girl whose father was a dear friend of Barrie's.

2. Charlie Chaplin was Barrie's first choice for the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan, which eventually starred Betty Bronson.

3. The first time Cathy Rigby toured in the live musical version of Peter Pan in the early '70s, her singing was dubbed by another singer because she had never sung professionally.

4. In 1965, George Cukor and Audrey Hepburn, director and star of 1964's My Fair Lady, almost did a movie version of the musical Peter Pan, which co-starred Sir Laurence Olivier as Captain Hook.

5. Mary Martin's teenage daughter, Heller Halliday, was originally slotted to play Wendy opposite her mother (as Peter), but director Jerome Robbins argued nobody wanted to be reminded that Mary was a 40-something mother playing an adolescent boy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

6 hours, 44 minutes until Peter Pan premiere

After two nights of special performances, ACT's production of Peter Pan is set to premiere tonight at 7:30pm on the Mainstage. Peter Pan is ACT's biggest production ever: 20 adults, 20 children, one dog, special flying effects -- and one special director who probably knows more about Peter Pan than James M. Barrie himself, the man who created the iconic character more than 100 years ago.

You can't ask director Jerry Crouch a question about Peter Pan and expect a short answer. He is a self-proclaimed "walking encyclopedia of musical trivia," whose passion for Peter Pan stems from when he first saw the Mary Martin TV version of Peter Pan in 1955 when he was three years old. Jerry said his mother found him the next morning trying to fly out of the window! Yes, Jerry was "hooked" from the beginning.

With the premiere drawing near, we corralled Jerry for a special Q & A about the show.

So, how's Peter Pan coming along?

Peter Pan is right on target for opening night! This cast has been amazing - facing flying apparatus throw at them, fantastic set additions from Scott Allred nightly, and the wonderful costumes designs by Kate Russell. The 40 cast members are professionals, ready, willing and more than able to dazzle Asheville audiences with a record-breaking, historic run!

You've directed several musicals at ACT, but none as big as Peter Pan. What's the biggest challenge of this show, and what's going to make this show so special?

Big musicals always present a challenge in that you have three distinct disciplines going on at any one time: singing, dancing, and of course, acting. Peter Pan is universally known and is one of the most beloved stories in literature. What will make this production special is the uber talented cast making this story come to life on the ACT stage. Never has ACT offered such brilliant production values, coupled with award-winning special effects. The audiences will literally be enchanted beyond words.

You seem to know more about Peter Pan than, well, anyone! Tell us how you became so engrossed in Peter Pan?

Peter Pan and I share a special bond that started the first time I saw the Mary Martin TV version in 1955 when I was 3 years old. Music, dance, and the acting all spoke to me on a visceral level that immediately captured my toddler mind and has carried through to today. I have been introduced as "Jerry Crouch, the musical" -- and that is just fine by me. The Peter Pan trivia is a natural extension of my love of musical theatre - you have just been hearing more of Peter Pan since we are involved with it. If I was doing Oliver or Caberet, I would be just as involved with their specific histories. I'm just a walking encyclopedia of musical theatre trivia.

Peter Pan is the boy who doesn't want to grow up? How about you?

I am very much Peter Pan, having played him in this musical version many years ago. The character of Peter represents the wild, non-repressed child in all of us who refuses to bow down to societal pressures. That pretty much describes my life by anyone who knows me. My brother once described me to his perspective father-in-law like this: "Jerry is not like anyone else you will ever meet." That individuality has served me well and allowed me to straddle both the hard-line corporate world for many years while maintaining my wild "dramatic" streak too. Being a schizophrenic Gemini helps.

Will you please share with us five bits of Peter Pan trivia?

(You will have to wait for tomorrow for this....we need to let Jerry direct tonight's show!)

Tanglewood Theatre celebrates 50 years....Tonight!

It's been 50 years since Johnny Haber started Tanglewood Theatre in his own backyard. To celebrate a half century of excellence in youth theatre, ACT is hosting a Tanglewood birthday Gala at The Venue in Asheville tonight at 5:00pm. The event is significantly cheaper than going to a movie (hint: it's free!) and will be much more fun. All Tanglewood alums (21 and older) are invited to attend this celebration. Meet the man who started it all (Yes, John will be there!), enjoy the festivities, then pop over to ACT for the Peter Pan premiere.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Family and Friends" Night at ACT

Wednesday night the cast of Peter Pan performed for family and friends, just two days before Friday's official premiere. ACT managing director Susan Harper welcomed a nearly full house: "You are probably the most important audience to them. They really care what you think because you are their family and friends."

If the "Family and Friends" night performance is any indication of what we can expect when the show opens, it's going to be a special ride. The audience was wowed by Peter Pan's flying entrance into the nursery, humored by Captain Hook's musings on the alligator who took his hand, and delighted by the dancing and playful interaction of The Lost Boys and Native Princesses.

Check out Tiger Lilly and The Native Princesses in action on ACT's YouTube channel. These girls can dance!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Susan Harper Returns to ACT

We open the new ACT blog on a Wednesday, and Wednesdays mean a Q & A session with one of the folks here at ACT -- staff member, show director, actor, volunteer -- who is making things happen at the theatre. Nope, we aren't trying to reproduce the Frost-Nixon interviews. These are breezy "get to know you" sessions. We toss softball questions and wait for home runs.

Susan Harper, ACT managing director, boldly volunteered to be our first interviewee. (How's that for leadership?) Susan came to ACT in the spring of 2003 and spent three year running the theatre. After a short stint away she returned as director this past July.

Susan has been busy preparing for Peter Pan, ACT's 2009-10 Mainstage premiere. But we caught up with her and promised a candy bar if she would answer our questions before the Wednesday Q & A deadline. She happily obliged:

So, how's it feel to be back at ACT?
Leaving ACT was a big mistake and I'm happy I was asked to return. It isn't often in life that you get to rectify a mistake.

What are some of your short and long terms goals for ACT?
Our short term goal is to produce excellent theatre this year and balance our budget in a challenging economy. To produce excellent theatre, we put together artistic teams of the highest quality and support their work. We pay the directors and designers of our shows to make sure the quality is high but also to ensure that the volunteers (actors and production crew) have an absolutely stellar experience. To balance the budget we have to hit our ticket projections and keep expenses at or below our projections.

Long term, our goal is to secure this organization for the future with adequate facility reserves (to keep our building in good shape), cash reserves, and an appropriately sized endowment to provide us with earned income to support our work.

Tell us something special about ACT we may not know?
ACT is the oldest continuously operating theatre in Asheville, and one of the oldest in the country. All of our actors are volunteers; they have day jobs like being a dentist or running a bed and breakfast, teaching school or working in a deli.

You've just stepped in as managing director, and you are about to put on the biggest show in ACT history. How's Peter Pan coming along?
Peter Pan is a monster show! On every level. But director Jerry Crouch has it totally in hand and has made sure that it is a wonderful experience for all the actors. I'm very impressed with his work.

I know you were on the set painting last week. Is it safe to say you're a "hands on" director?
Everyone here does what it takes to get the job done. Generally I work up front, but in a crunch I'm happy to pick up a paint brush.

How does ACT set its season performance lineup?
We have an Artistic Selection Committee that meets in the fall to develop our season, both for the Mainstage and 35below.

You must have some history with acting/performing. Any good stories from your past?
I was in a play in high school but have totally blocked the experience from my mind. I have no desire to be on stage. My job is to make sure others have that experience. But I did play the violin as a child and I thought I was quite good, but I've been told after the fact that I was quite horrible.

So we shouldn't expect to see you on the ACT Mainstage anytime soon? Diva*licious perhaps?
You'll get all you want of me doing curtain speeches during the year. I guarantee you I won't be vying for time on the stage.

So, what type of candy bar to you want?
A Milky Way!

(Coming tomorrow: A video sneak peak of Peter Pan, taken at Wednesday night's "Family and Friends" performance.)