Monthly Archives: February 2023

Mei-Ann Chen Rocks the Knight in CSO Debut

Review: Bruch’s Violin Concerto with Charlotte Symphony

By Perry Tannenbaum

2023~Bruch Violin-18We’ve been hearing about numerous identified and unidentified flying objects in recent weeks, emanating from numerous sectors of the globe, crossing over our nation’s territorial waters and seeking all sorts of military and meteorological intelligence. Less mysteriously, there have been precise predictions in recent months of astral objects whistling through our solar system, one of them brushing closer to dear Earth than the moon.

But until now, not a word about the meteor that struck the Knight Theater in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. Her name is Mei-Ann Chen, and we can only hope that the guest conductor now in our midst is vying for the vacant music directorship at the Charlotte Symphony. It would be grossly unfair, no doubt, but it wouldn’t a bad idea to sign her up before she left town.

Chen’s impact on – and appeal to – the Symphony’s musicians and subscribers was nothing short of electric.2023~Bruch Violin-09_Export

The orchestra had never performed Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Overture in C Major before, yet they attacked the work zestfully, conveying its sharp contrasts and drama with unmistakable fervor. Flutist Amy Orsinger and principal oboist Hollis Ulaky excelled, jointly and separately, in the piece’s gentler moments. Although we had heard the CSO play the BRUCH VIOLIN CONCERTO as recently as 2016, Chen ignited the ensemble with fresh fire rather than receding to a subsidiary role behind concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu.

Instead of deferring to the soloist – or even seeking an agreeable balance between orchestra and violinist – Chen laid the gauntlet down to them both, so that Lupanu and Symphony spurred each other to greater heights vying for supremacy, achieving a higher level of parity through their combat. More adventurous now than I can recall, Lupanu was nearly note-perfect all the way through the treacherous terrain of the Allegro energico finale while his attack, confidence, and feeling were never better. His command was certainly impressive throughout the opening Allegro moderato, with a transition to the slow middle movement that was amorously smooth. Principal flutist Victor Wang helped to make this Adagio extra exquisite.

As the concerto climaxed, it might have been a toss-up to many in the audience whether Chen was inspiring the CSO or vice-versa. In respect for your colleagues, you’re not going to urge an orchestra too insistently to give us more during a performance – that has to have happened behind the scenes in rehearsal.

Our first glimpse of what that might have been like came right after the concerto, when Chen gestured to the audience to give Lupanu more love for his sterling performance. After the break, our impressions grew more vivid as Chen picked up a mic at the podium and greeted us. Not satisfied with our “Good evening!” Chen urged us to make a second try, somehow infusing this tired old emcee shtick with new energy and spontaneity – and getting results.2023~Bruch Violin-23

Speaking about the works on tonight’s program, Chen included info we could have gleaned from the program – a practice that Christof Perick and Christopher Warren-Green staunchly resisted – and made an effort to link the pieces together with a common theme. Faced with a crowd that was significantly more numerous than the crowd I’d seen three weeks earlier, but still significantly short of Knight’s capacity, Chen declared that Charlotte should be more supportive toward its Symphony.

That was a more compelling statement after delivering two examples of our musicians performing at their peak.

Chen rightly surmised that the main draw of the evening was the Bruch, since the César Franck Symphony in D minor, originally slated for its revival last March, hadn’t been heard in the Queen City since November 2003. Now that was a pitifully attended concert at Belk Theater, after striking CSO musicians had settled on a new contract and returned to work, so Symphony subscribers can pat themselves on the back for improving on that turnout.2023~Bruch Violin-10_Export

The main link between the two Francks that I’ve seen was the fine work by Terry Maskin on the cor anglais solo in the middle Allegretto movement. In the outer Allegro movements, our brass proved its mettle once again, though we’ve surely seen a Chening of the guard during the intervening decades. Associate concertmaster Joseph Meyer distinguished himself in the early Lento of the opening and principal French hornist Byron Johns had outstanding moments when the music quickened.

Chen improved most on the Perick performance of 2003 in the Allegretto, livening the effect of Maskin’s soulfulness on the English horn with more standout work from Johns and Andrea Mumm Trammell’s delicacy on the harp. Before the brass brought the finale to its brash climax, CSO’s principal harpist bubbled up tellingly in the symphony’s last calming episode.

Obviously content with her musicians’ handiwork, Chen gave the audience opportunity after opportunity to show the appreciation she had previously asked for. With unmistakable cues, Chen called upon us – already giving them a standing O – to really let the musicians hear it as she prompted them individually and collectively to take their well-earned bows. We did.

[If you missed Mei-Ann Chen in Charlotte, you can catch up with her on June 7, when the Chicago Sinfonietta music director conducts Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” at Spoleto Festival USA.]

Photos by Perry Tannenbaum

BNS Conquers Adversity in Opening of Speakeasy, Shining at the New Parr Center

Review: Speakeasy by Rory D. Sheriff

 By Perry Tannenbaum

2023~Speakeasy-15

February 17, 2023, Charlotte, NC – Quick adaptation and a be-ready-for-anything state of mind are key survival tools for any performer who ventures into the minefield of live performance. But as opening night for BNS Productions’ Speakeasy inched closer, booked for this weekend at the new Parr Center – where no local theatre company has performed before – Charlotte’s preeminent black repertory company stepped on an explosive they couldn’t avoid. Just before the three-day run was scheduled to begin, one of their lead players came down with COVID.

Rory D. Sheriff, the author of the new script and founding artistic director of BNS, was forced to shuffle his cast, elevating Marcus Looney from a minor role to leading man while stepping into the vacated role himself. Both of these actors appeared on opening night, turning what would ordinarily be termed a workshop production into a rather fancy reading stage effort, enhanced by the scenery and lighting (also by Sheriff) we would expect in a full production, with six of the eight cast members off-book.

A couple of the main themes in Sheriff’s new work, starting over and working together to save the day, mesh well with the behind-the-scenes tumult. After leaving her abusive husband, Virginia is hoping to make a new life for herself – without a man, for a change – back at her dead parents’ home in 1978 Reading, Pennsylvania. Doing this her way is hindered by her wanton sister Marge, who is tirelessly “pimping” the newly-available Virginia around town, and the inevitable pursuit of men who have heard about the breakup.

The most aggressive of these is Percy, the horny neighborhood cable guy. On top of that, while leering at Marge, the mailman delivers an alarming formal letter informing Virginia that her parents left their property taxes unpaid for over 10 years. She must quickly come up with over $1000 or get out. Older brother Roosevelt, a starchy preacher man, would much rather sell the place than provide her sister with the balance.

Well, if you already have a cable guy and a mailman knocking at your door and salivating, Marge proposes that Virginia do the next best thing to prostituting herself: jointly turning the family homestead into a speakeasy, where local men can pay out to enjoy the sisters’ company in exchange for alcoholic beverage, assorted snacks, and free cable TV, courtesy of Percy. Prohibition hasn’t returned to Pennsylvania, but the sisters can’t legally peddle booze without a state license.2023~Speakeasy-09

A volatile triangle develops before intermission as Percy feels entitled to take further advantage of Virginia, spending the night and tiptoeing out the back door with the speakeasy’s take. Hard to report a crime like that to police. Virginia might have a white knight willing to champion her cause, a Winston-Salem refugee named Horse who has fallen hard for her, but she keeps pushing him away even after he wins Marge’s sincere endorsement. Cecilia McNeill has taken on a very conflicted role in Virginia, earning our empathy with her troubles while drawing our impatience – and occasionally our annoyance – with her negativity and her deafness to what Marge, Horse, and her own heart are telling her about her new beau.

McNeill carried it all off rather brilliantly in her auspicious debut if you consider how little time she had been given to acclimate to Looney as her co-star and how often her true love had to gaze downwards at his script. It was hugely helpful that Looney was off-book when he made his first entrances through the back door to the sisters’ speakeasy, and that after intermission, when he always had his script with him, he prioritized memorizing those lines where Horse should be gazing most intently at Virginia instead of the script. Otherwise, the role never appeared to be beyond Looney’s depth. A lingering photo at the BNS website of Jonathan Caldwell, originally cast as Horse, made me think that Virginia’s worries about him tossing her over would be more credible if he were there. If it were Caldwell standing up to Tim Bradley as Percy when the action peaked, I also suspect that it would have looked more like an equal match and not as brave or quixotic.2023~Speakeasy-12

Such alterations are always the byproduct of casting different actors in the same role. Sheriff can make peace with them or he could possibly like them better, but I’m sure that he would hate to discard Bradley with his imposing presence and his boisterous vulgarity. Horse the outsider and Percy the loose cannon are the two men that remind me most readily of the American Century drama cycle by August Wilson, an inspiration that Sheriff candidly acknowledges. Having appeared in three different BNS productions of Wilson’s dramas – and importing an extra roar from the title role in Sheriff’s Be a Lion – Bradley straddles those two realms magnificently, a lowlife rascal who can be quite formidable and menacing.

Alana Jones, Bradley’s slinky consort in Lion, is a bit over-directed and overly frisky here as Marge, her broad comedy projecting far beyond the stage and hall to faraway Gaston County. But the audience adored her, so Jones will likely continue mincing around her speakeasy like a cartoon cat. The contrast is certainly effective when she becomes candid and caring with Virginia. A bit of a clothes horse, Jones is my prime suspect for slowing down scene changes, for costume designer Dee Abdullah’s ample wardrobe has her feverishly changing costumes whenever she’s not sashaying onstage. I’d be surprised if she wears less than five get-ups, but the guys also have multiple outfits.

All the guys are nicely seasoned and excellent, providing additional Wilson flavoring. Dominic Weaver as Roosevelt puts a nice soft spot for Virginia in the middle of his sanctimonious hauteur that we can see from the beginning, when the upright minister is difficult, obstinate, and stingy. In his BNS debut, Andrew C. Roberts gives us some meaty civil-rights-movement context in a powerfully delivered monologue, although it seems to come from nowhere. James Lee Walker, II, has done so many uniquely stylish roles for BNS and other companies around town that I was not at all surprised to see him shine – in one scene literally shine in a glittery shirt.

A bit of the stilted dialogue we heard an opening night will likely vanish as Sheriff refines his script, and more variety in how extended monologues are staged and lit will likely materialize in the hands of a defter director. For starters, the guys might explicitly confirm what card game they’re playing at the speakeasy and which Ali fight they’re watching on TV. Feedback that Sheriff receives from this workshop edition will likely help him to sharpen his characters’ sparring and deepen their drama. He and BNS are off to a great start at their new venue.

Off-Broadway Star Shines in Three Bones’ Andy and the Orphans

Review: Andy and the Orphans at The Arts Factory

By Perry Tannenbaum

Eddie Barbanell, Susan Cherin, David Canetazzo and Vanessa Robinson (1)

When playwright Lindsey Ferrentino wrote Amy and the Orphans about her Down Syndrome aunt Amy, she convincingly demonstrated that she didn’t need to write its fraternal twin, Andy and the Orphans. But the demonstration happened too slowly. Ferrentino and director Todd Haimes needed a second Down Syndrome actor to play the title role at matinee performances when the show opened for the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2018.

Presumably, Ferrentino thought that pickin’s would be slim after finding Jamie Brewer at a New York fashion runway, the first DS person to participate in Fashion Week, through a talent agency that specialized in performers with disabilities. So the playwright didn’t specify what gender her second DS actor should be. Along came Eddie Barbanell to step onstage as the matinee understudy, and along came Andy and the Orphans, the custom-tailored male version of Ferrentino’s tribute to her Aunt Amy.Eddie Barbanell as Andy_1

Five years later – and five years closer to Andy’s real age – Barbanell is here in Charlotte, wowing audiences at The Arts Factory in Three Bone Theatre’s production of Andy and the Orphans through February 25. Meanwhile, Ferrentino has learned, through versions of her work staged in London and Spain, that you can reliably find DS actors to play DS people onstage anywhere. The real stumbling block for DS performers is the lack of roles for them.

Three Bone was actually early to the Ferrentino party, bringing the playwright’s previous work, Ugly to the Bone, to Spirit Square’s Duke Energy Theater two years ago. It was another script that showed Ferrentino’s empathy with female castaways in our society and how they are treated. Then it was Jess, an Afghanistan War vet returning to her Florida home, disfigured and disabled physically while inwardly suffering from PTSD.

While the content of Amy/Andy is more autobiographical, the location moves away from the playwright’s native Florida to New York. Precise locations shift during the action, and Ferrentino is rather circumspect about where we are or when. Without the script in my hands, I guessed that at various times we were in Staten Island, outside LaGuardia or Kennedy Airport, at a group home in Queens or Long Island, on the road, and – quite memorably – at a Burger King. Andy, his elder siblings, and Kathy, the caretaker who must accompany Andy, are on a road trip to Dad’s funeral, past the end of the fabled Long Island Expressway (and Sunrise Highway afterwards) to Montauk, the eastern tip of New York.David Catenazzo and Susan Cherin_2

Maggie and Jacob, when they aren’t bickering over whether their yearly meet-ups are Christmas or Chanukah visits, are worried over how they will break the news that Dad has died – and that Mom has already died awhile ago. This is the right comedy varnish to apply to a story that has a rather horrific dramatic core. Likewise, being overdue on telling their DS little brother that Mom and Dad are dead is a rather innocuous patina to apply to the family trait the characterizes Andy’s sibs and parents, a shocking abdication of their responsibilities toward him.

As this shabby trait becomes more and more exposed, the sideshow dinginess of Chip Davis’s traffic-themed set design becomes more and more apt for this story. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that director Danielle Melendez lucked out when Susan Cherin and David Catenazzo showed up for auditions. Cherin comes off as the kookier, more neurotic sib as Maggie, far more likely to be a fretful helicopter parent than her shambling brother. As Jacob, Catenazzo has the more Jewish name and delivers a more Jewish demeanor – compounding the comedy, since he’s the bible-toting convert who celebrates Christmas.

It’s really hard for us to be disgusted with either Cherin or Catenazzo until Maggie and Jacob are shown why they should be deeply disgusted with themselves. That’s why this key moment is such a gut punch for us.

Barbanell is extraordinary, giving us all that Ferrentino wrote into Andy and more. As an actor myself, I marveled at his cue pickup and his timing. We don’t need to be in his presence long for us to believe how he and Brewer blew away the playwright’s expectations for what a DS actor can do, or that they were the first Off-Broadway cast members to go off-book. Nor was I surprised by the end of the evening to read that Barbanell had burst into Shakespearean monologues by Romeo, Julius Caesar, and Puck the first time he met up with Ferrentino at a roadside diner, turning his interview into an audition and a theatre event. Each performance was “word perfect” by the playwright’s account.

Tacitly, then, she has admitted that she might have filled out Amy/Andy’s role more amply if she had known, going in, the full capability of DS actors. Critics who have faulted Ferrentino for not fleshing out her title character and letting us get to know him better may have overlooked just how pioneering this script is. Getting buffeted by myopic critics was the price she had to pay.

Nice thing is, Ferrentino has been asked by Netflix to adapt and direct a film version of Amy and the Orphans. That will allow her to reframe her story knowing her DS actors’ capabilities beforehand. Both Brewer and Barbanell have been tapped to be in the remake, so it’s probable we’ll get first look inside Amy and Andy’s group home. Maybe Andy’s unseen girlfriend, Tina Turner, will get thrown overboard in favor of Amy!

Sarah Molloy and Nathan Morris (1)Sarah Malloy and Nathan Morris are Sarah and Bobby – and the key reason why Ferrentino has moved her tale to the Staten Island vicinity. They are the parents of the title character, but it may take awhile before audiences catch on. My wife Sue, who taught special needs children for decades, got it the second time Sarah and Bobby locked horns. It didn’t come together for me, merely a special needs child’s elder brother, until maybe a half hour later.

Even then, notwithstanding the fine work from Malloy and Morris, I wondered why the playwright felt these dead parents needed to be onstage, in the story. There was something unsavory about both of them, that I can say, before the big reveal. Then the Staten Island connect became crucial.

[[Spoiler Alert: In the run-up to the upcoming Netflix film, it’s hard for me to predict whether the Willowbrook State School will remain a spoiler. Back in his day, Senator Robert F. Kennedy visited the facility. Not too long afterward, Geraldo Rivera dropped by with a TV crew, coming away with similar impressions. Decide for yourself by googling Willowbrook – or delaying that search – whether you wish to know about it before or after you see Andy and the Orphans. Will Netflix insist on showing us the place? Stay tuned.]]Vanessa Robinson (1)

Finally, it must be said that Vanessa Robinson’s sensational Charlotte debut as Kate has absolutely nothing to do with luck on Melendez’s part. She went way against script, where Kathy is described as Italian-American, in casting Andy’s pregnant social worker. With a down-to-earth quality that masks her admirable ability to tolerate all the Maggies and Jacobs she has dealt with over the years – and the Andys – Robinson shows us a different way to be “the walking embodiment of Long Island, New York.”

When they perform their big monologues, both Barbanell and Robinson hit it out of the park.

One of the things I had to ponder on our drive home was whether Ferrentino had been dealing from the bottom of the deck when she showed us how normal and everyday Maggie and Jacob were – not to mention Sarah and Bobby before them – in their interactions with Andy and each other. It’s only when you factor in how many hundreds and thousands of parents and siblings behaved the same way, for over four decades, that the monstrousness of such normality becomes clear.

Ferrentino is slowly, cautiously, and carefully cushioning us for a hard truth. All the time we’re thinking that we’re in on the big reveal Maggie and Jacob have in store for Andy, we are being set up with devastating circumspection.

The tables are turned suddenly. Jarringly.

Cerrudo Revives Innovative Works With Fresh Excitement

Review: Innovative Works at Center for Dance

By Perry Tannenbaum

The Deatils Are the Meaning by Helen Simoneau - full cast - photo by Taylor Jones Charlotte Ballet’s reveal wasn’t as dramatic as the recent return of the renovated Old Barn on Queens Road with a full-fledged Theatre Charlotte musical. But after the COVID shutdowns, postponements and cancellations, and the abrupt departure of artistic director Hope Muir after barely five years – the last two during the pandemic – it was hard to feel that Charlotte Ballet was all the way back until last weekend. Until we had seen some choreography by the new AD, Alejandro Cerrudo. Extra frustrating for me, since I had declared his work a perfect fit for CharBallet when I had first seen it at Spoleto Festival USA in 2014, had been the absence of his imprint on the Fall Works program at Knight Theater last October.

With Cerrudo now hosting the annual Innovative Works wintertime program, contributing a fine piece that crowns an invigorating evening at the McBride-Bonnefoux Center for Dance, we can let it all seep in. A new era has emphatically begun at the Center for Dance, with a new AD starting to reshape the company’s identity, working with a mix of familiar dancers, new dancers, and dancers who have matriculated to the varsity through the satellite Charlotte Ballet II troupe.

The state of Charlotte Ballet, to coin a phrase, is strong.HdrM by Jennifer Archibald - Olivr Oguma and Amelia Sturt-Dilley - photo by Taylor Jones

Jennifer Archibald’s vowel-starved HdrM and Helen Simoneau’s The Details Are the Meaning, both world premieres, preceded Cerrudo’s no-less-cryptic Silent Ghost. Silence was a subtle motif: It’s been awhile since Charlotte Ballet presented an entire evening of dance works that were devoid of storyline, song lyrics, or voiceovers. Taking on the hosting chores, Cerrudo recalled his takeaway from the first time he squired his daughter to a set of modern dance pieces. Comprehension was no problem at all, as it turned out. Just let it seep in was the core of his message.

On this occasion, anyway, Cerrudo discarded the introductory videos that have enhanced the studio ambience at past Center for Dance programs, where the evening’s choreographers, projected on screens flanking the audience, would talk about their works before we saw them, or dancers would give us their insights. Instead of those slick videos – all three “Behind the Ballet” videos are available at Charlotte Ballet’s website – we contented ourselves with Cerrudo’s remarks and a strange, mysterious welcome from CharBallet dancer Maurice Mouzon Jr. in a flowing black costume. Three quarters bacchante conjuration and one quarter airline steward pantomime, the conjuration was so absorbing that I really didn’t pay attention to the voiceover until Mouzon pointed out the exits to us.

That shtick was another great ice breaker, arguably the most amusing of the night.HdrM by Jennifer Archibald - Nadine Barton and Oliver Oguma - by Taylor Jones (1)

Like the other dances that followed, HdrM didn’t readily disclose its intentions, but Archibald offers a couple of useful hints in our program booklets. Her subject is environmental psychology, questioning whether society has a responsibility to humanize architecture. What the choreography takes aim at is “hard architecture,” as explored in Robert Sommer’s Tight Spaces: Hard Architecture and How to Humanize It (1974). Since there is no scenery with the fledgling piece, nor any projections, we can decide among several kinds of hard architecture that Sommer was concerned with: prisons, classrooms, asylums, hospitals, or zoos.

Kerri Martinson’s drab costumes seem to narrow that field to secure buildings for human adults, with no further clues provided by the music of Federico Albanese, Ludwig Ronquist, and Heilung. What I found most enjoyable here was Archibald’s struggling, yet never agonized, language of movement – a mixture of sensual interaction between the eight dancers and self-absorbed precision. Likewise, there were episodes when the dancers connected intimately with the flow of the music, interrupted by abrupt mechanical disconnects from the soundtrack.Silent Ghost - Anna Mains and Luke Csordas - photo by Taylor Jones

While the eight dancers never evoked a prison or an asylum, they brought us a dark, broken world. The moments of trauma were less common and affecting than the flow of brave, resolute striving. If the other choreographies reached these levels of intensity and artistry, I knew that the evening’s experience would be unforgettable.

Dressed in a different set of Martinson costumes, these in various colors with sheer unisex skirts, Simoneau’s The Details Are the Meaning showcased six fresh dancers whom we hadn’t seen in the previous piece. Though collections of Caroline Shaw compositions played by the Attacca Quartet have won two Grammy Awards since 2019, the music that Simoneau had selected was badly overmiked on Saturday night – far past the point of clarifying detail, if that was the point.

Movements in Simoneau’s setting were more classical and conventional than Archibald’s had been, with a greater tendency toward traditional partnering: Anna Mains with newcomer Oliver Oguma, Sarah Hayes Harkins with Rees Launer, and Isabella Franco with Mouzon. Beautifully executed lifts were no more lively or original, and I missed the point of the static, I-could-also-do-that poses in the middle of the piece. Combined with the wayward potting of the audio and the unsexy unisex outfits, this piece struck me as calling for more time in the workshop and more polish.Silent Ghost - Sarah Hayes Harkins and Sarah Lapointe - photo by Taylor Jones

Silent Ghost felt very consonant with the two premieres that had preceded it, so Cerrudo had been judicious in calling upon Michael Korsch to provide lighting design for the new works after serving as Cerrudo’s original designer back 2015, when Ghost premiered in Santa Fe. Saving his own work for last was also a sensible idea, for it presented more CharBallet dancers for our scrutiny and delight than either Simoneau or Archibald had engaged.

Yet as Cerrudo’s numinous title indicates, the mood was far from celebratory or triumphant, as you might expect capping an Innovative program. The ambiance hinted at in the ghostly title was perhaps best approximated by the music of Jon Hopkins and Kenny Anderson (King Creosote) – a dimly recorded household conversation mixed over New Age piano. The opening track, by Dustin Hamman, presented a similar profile with fuzzy guitar chords strummed over intermittently intelligible vocals. Additional tracks were by Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm.

Costumes by Branamira Ivanova were even more monochromatic than Martinson’s for HdrM, but smarter somehow and more fun to wear and dance in. While Cerrudo’s style of movement never struck me as either edgy or outré, which Archibald’s choreography definitely had, the style was markedly individual, comfortably at odds with tradition rather than defiant of it. Silent Ghost flowed no less naturally than HdrM. There was no perceivable strain on the ensemble in clothing themselves with the choreographer’s movements, and they were all perpetually wedded to the soundtrack, no matter what combination was onstage.

These combos were often pas de deuxs pairing Sarah Hayes Harkins with Oguma or Mains with newcomer Luke Csordas, always excellent. To my understanding, past ADs at Charlotte Ballet haven’t given new company members so much spotlight so soon, tending to give the impression that there was an unofficial hierarchy. I applaud Cerrudo’s audacious impulse: it makes his new era of leadership feel more exciting and unpredictable.

Opera Carolina’s “Porgy and Bess” Remains True to Gershwin and Heyward

Review: Porgy and Bess at Belk Theater

 By Perry Tannenbaum

2023~Porgy & Bess-27

January 22, 2023, Charlotte, NC – Curiously enough, Opera Carolina didn’t get around to producing the Gershwin Brothers’ Porgy and Bess – an opera incomparably suffused with the sounds, scents, and DNA of the Carolinas – until its 33rd season in 1980. Turns out that was somewhat bolder than Spoleto Festival USA, which waited until its 40th anniversary in 2016 to bring this opera to Charleston, where the story is set, and where its creator/librettist DuBose Heyward was born. It can be argued that the snooty world of opera recordings was even more hesitant to acknowledge this American classic, issuing the first full-length CD edition in 1976, a full 41 years after the Boston and Broadway premieres.

Hesitancy has lingered a little at Opera Carolina, which brought back new homegrown productions of Porgy and Bess to Belk Theater in 1995 and 2003, but no others until now. OpCarolina did bring us a touring version in 2010, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Broadway premiere, but that fiasco is best forgotten. A couple more touring versions have come our way over the past quarter century. The best of these was at the Belk in 2014, the touring version of the slimmed-down 2012 Broadway revival that had starred Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis (who just happened to be performing in the touring version of A Soldier’s Play as it finished up its two-week Charlotte run down the block at Knight Theater).

In comparison to that estimable touring treat, the new Opera Carolina production conducted by artistic director James Meena did not need to blush. At the Sunday matinee premiere, Sequina DuBose reprised her role of Clara from the Broadway tour while Nicole Cabell, featured as Clara – who sings the incandescent “Summertime” – on Decca’s landmark 2006 recording of the original 1935 Broadway score, made her Charlotte debut as Bess. Kenneth Overton, who was billed as the star of that infamous 75th-anniversary tour, was replaced by a fifth-string singer at Ovens Auditorium whose name could not be determined until five days later, finally got his chance to impress as Porgy. No less prestigious, Victor Ryan Robertson gave us a taste of what made the ornate Spoleto production so splendid by reprising his slickster grace as Sportin’ Life.

2023~Porgy & Bess-03

Stage director Dennis Robinson hasn’t sought to replicate that scenic Spoleto splendor, concentrating his attention instead on building the drama. Two rolling set pieces by scenic designer John Farrell replicate the dilapidated Catfish Row tenements, with backdrops and Michael Baumgarten’s wonderful lighting supplying much of the color. Those colors are usually upstaged by Ildikó Debreczeni’s artful costume designs, motley women’s and working men’s clothing in the outdoor community scenes, veering toward black in the dimly lit funeral scene for the murdered Robbins, and suddenly switching to a splash of white linens for the Kittiwah Island picnic.

Even the stylish Sportin’ Life, all purple with gold accents when we first see him, wears pure white pants and vest at the beach, though a lurid silk fuchsia shirt peeps through. Other costumes sketch the main characters’ evolution. Crown, Robbins’ murderer and Bess’s abusive former husband, is nearly as dandified as Sportin’ Life when we first see them shooting craps, yet he’s nearly in tatters when he madly emerges from hiding, seeking Bess. Debreczeni’s Bess transforms only slightly less dramatically, her first appearance in a flaming red dress when she still belongs to Crown, followed by a citified black “mourning” dress at the funeral – pointedly accessorized with pearls.

2023~Porgy & Bess-09

The funeral and picnic scenes both show off how dignity has triumphed over poverty along Catfish Row, though the seafaring men and a climactic hurricane remind us how tenuous their victory is. As Jake, Clara’s husband, reminds us as the lead voice in the men’s worksong, “It Take a Long Pull to Get There,” evoking the Promised Land in much the same way that Rev. Martin Luther King would at the Lincoln Memorial decades later. Laudably, Robinson isn’t ashamed of either Porgy or Bess. He permits Cabell’s Bess to be Bess, ambivalent toward Porgy, Crown, and Sportin’ Life, just as she was written – bold yet insecure. She yields resignedly to Crown after arguing and resisting, so she is absolutely credible when she confesses the full range of her fears in her famed “I Loves You, Porgy” of the imminent confrontation when Crown comes for her: “he hypnotize me when he take hold of me with his hot hand.”

2023~Porgy & Bess-61

Refusing to enlighten Bess or belittle her demons, Robinson collaborates with Overton to rehabilitate Porgy, making him happier and less pathetic than I’ve ever seen him before. Robinson doesn’t ignore Porgy’s mobility issues, but unlike other directors, he offers Overton multiple avenues for motion, dispelling the cripple’s usual monotony and impotence. In most productions, Porgy perpetually limps with a crutch or glides along on a cart. Occasionally, you might see that four-wheel vehicle at the rear of a goat cart, honoring Samuel Smalls, alias “Goat Cart Sam,” the real-life Charlestonian that Heyward based his protagonist upon in his celebrated 1920 novel.

2023~Porgy & Bess-04

Discarding that goat, Overton will limp, glide, crawl, and – at one key dramatic moment – even attempt to stand up and walk. This variety made Overton’s Porgy more restless, powerful, and dynamic. His crutch is a forked affair, topped by little ironing board-like cushion joining the branches, enabling Porgy to lean on it with his arm and stand upright. The cart is also cushioned to comfortably accommodate Porgy’s kneepads. We see that Overton can glide a good distance along the stage with a single paddling motion, braking with his toes, but I really didn’t notice that his wheels could swivel until the last possible moment. That revelation made Porgy’s final exit the most stunning I’ve ever seen.

2023~Porgy & Bess-46

When Overton first entered, the neighborhood greeted him with affection rather than pity. Even before he got his gal and somewhat domesticated her, he brimmed with sufficient confidence and joie-de-vivre to heartily sing “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” to every woman along Catfish Row who had doubted him. You could believe in Overton as he jumped into the transcendent “I Loves You, Porgy” duet: he will stand up to Crown – and unlike the original libretto prescribed, this Porgy met Crown face-to-face rather than sneaking up on him.

2023~Porgy & Bess-53

Until Porgy’s surprisingly military departure, Robertson’s slithery balletic grace as Sportin’ Life provided the most delicious movement we saw. Executing Michael Jackson-styled spins, Robertson was the “happy dust” he peddled, the wicked exhilaration of the high life that Bess was giving up. Citified and flamboyant, Robertson also rocked Sportin’ Life’s cynicism smack in the middle of the idyllic Kittiwah picnic. His “It Ain’t Necessarily So” became a showstopper that launched Act 2 buoyantly, no less successful than DuBose’s spotlit “Summertime” when the curtain first rose. Nor did the quality wane after the drunken brawl at the dice game and Robbins’ murder when we adjourned to the gloomy funereal aftermath. Not only did we get to see Porgy duded up, upright on his feet, and escorted by a newly demure and penitent Bess, we got reminded by Michelle Johnson as Serena, Robbins’ grieving widow, of the heartfelt power pent up in “My Man’s Gone Now,” Serena’s swaying lament.

2023~Porgy & Bess-35

As the murderous Crown, Donovan Singletary had ample pects and biceps for Bess to ogle at in his OpCarolina debut, manhandling her on Kittiwah Island with the confidence – and restraint – of a brute who has willed “his” woman back to his arms for the last five years anytime he wished. The “Oh, What You Want wid Bess” duet had exactly the right blend of chemistry, antagonism, lust, and loathing. More of Singletary’s heat surfaced as Catfish Row rode out the hurricane, but his raunchy “A Red-Headed Woman” was too abbreviated, defanged, and on-the-fly for my liking. Give us a longer version, please!

Otherwise, the only persistent flaw in this beautifully sung, meticulously crafted production was the singers when they weren’t singing their arias. Nobody else came close to matching Overton’s intelligibility or audibility when dialogue or recitative pushed the story forward, an unwanted reminder of the touring production that played Ovens Auditorium in 1998. The dropout in decibels was especially dreary for me in the opening scene as the crap game dragged on, but my discomfort may be benign compared to what Porgy newcomers experienced if they didn’t already know the lyrics to the songs.

Once the brawl broke out, Heyward’s story pretty much told itself for me through the actions we watched, aided by George Gershwin’s music and orchestrations. Miking the dialogue, as most touring Broadway shows do, would certainly have been helpful, but the simplest solution for these nagging woes at the Belk would have been supertitles. That way, we could have appreciated Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin nearly as much as George.

Parameswaran Delights With Eclectic Mix of Moderns

Review: Sibelius No. 5 with the Charlotte Symphony

 By Perry Tannenbaum

2023~Sibelius 5-14

Maybe subscribers to Charlotte Symphony’s Classical Series aren’t as invested in choosing a successor to music director Christopher Warren-Green as I had presumed, or maybe the weather was too darn wintry for the wusses. Whatever the cause, the audience that came to see guest conductor Vinay Parameswaran perform a program that included music by Gabriella Smith, Benjamin Britten, and Jean Sibelius – while launching CSO’s celebration with a fine example of William Grant Still’s artistry – didn’t come close to filling Knight Theater to capacity.

Nor could anyone who looked over the stalwarts who braved the Arctic cold have called us diverse.

Could be that we’re complacent, self-satisfied, and spoiled. After hosting a musician as renowned and prestigious as Warren-Green, we may have forgotten that the candidates parading before us, seeking to impress in order to land a job offer, might just need to be sufficiently impressed by us to accept.

So it was interesting to watch how Parameswaran reacted when he looked out at the crowd, pocked with empty seats, and met us for the first time in his Charlotte debut. A rather sober look on his face abruptly turned to shock, surprise, and gladness as he heard our outsized enthusiasm.2023~Sibelius 5-02

He was rather charming, then, when he picked up the mic at the podium and described Smith’s piece, Field Guide, along with the works that followed. Any misgivings that concertgoers who stayed away could have harbored about his foreign-sounding name would have been instantly dispelled by the ease with which he spoke and the ease with which we understood – even if it was outré for him to describe Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations, the text for Britten’s song cycle, as “nonsensical.” I could hardly believe my ears.

Fortunately, the boldness of the San Francisco Bay Area native didn’t end there. He and the orchestra dug into Field Guide with gusto. Or tapped in, for the lower string players tattooed a sustained ostinato at the beginning of this pictorial voyage, delivering the sounds of insects, birds, animals, and swirling waters that Smith had recorded in the field and given new orchestral color. Cacophony was also mixed with the woodland stealth, and a look at the digital program booklet confirmed, in stray passages reminiscent of Debussy’s La Mer, that Smith had also taken her recording equipment to the ocean and under the sea.2023~Sibelius 5-24

Surreal, visionary, and hallucinatory though they might be, Rimbaud’s landmark prose poems are neither indecipherable nor dated. Canadian soprano Alexandra Smither, also making her Queen City debut, was evidently eager to share the wonder and variety of Britten’s settings, though she seemed as taken aback and gratified by our lusty greeting as Parameswaran had been. To fully savor the rightness of the music and the subtly crafted lucidity of Britten’s discreetly edited text, you’ll want to download the digital program booklet (via QR code) and follow along on your smartphone.

They do ask that you turn down the brightness of your screen as you’re reading the English translations of the French. Savor the irony as you reduce the illumination for Illuminations.

Our CSO thinned out during the transition from Smith to Britten, for the song cycle was written for strings and voice – with its intimacy compounded when concertmaster Calin Lupanu and principal cellist Jonathan Lewis play solos. Taking for a refrain a line of Rimbaud’s “Parade,” which concludes with “I alone have the key to this savage parade,” Britten turns his entire cycle into a savage parade – or as Duke University professor Wallace Fowlie translated it, “this wild circus.”

“Parade” doesn’t actually occur until the penultimate song in the 10-part suite, and both Smither and Parameswaran fully savored its climactic orchestral exuberance, appropriately rendered in marching tempo. Unlike Rimbaud’s masterpiece, which ends by scaling to a blasphemous pinnacle in “Genie,” Britten goes from “Parade” to a devastatingly subdued “Départ” (Departure), perhaps expressing empathy for the tragic gay poet. The effect was more powerful because Smither and the CSO had partnered in mostly uptempo songs until then. Excitement had been fairly intense from the beginning, when tremolos from the lower strings flowed into the first vocal scoring of Britten’s surreal refrain in “Fanfare,” taken by Smither at an infectious poco presto tempo with all her characterful ebullience.

Okay, so I’ll confess that I had slept as soundly as anybody on William Grant Still until Parameswaran brought him brashly to us. We’re catching up with him comfortably ahead of the centennial of Still’s ascension to the title of “Dean of African American Composers,” when he was the first black composer to have his work performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1930. The Naxos label and Apple Music are fairly woke to Still, woker than my first Spotify searches could confirm, though I found the same recording of Poem for Orchestra – by the renowned Fort Smith Symphony – at both streaming services.

With a helter-skelter cacophonous opening, Symphony and Parameswaran were far bolder and more modern than their Fort Smith counterparts as the full ensemble returned after intermission. Even when the CSO settled down and we could see the Brahms-and-Gershwin bloodlines of Still’s composition, with occasional soured passages paralleling Shostakovich’s wartime works, the music sounded more vibrant and contemporary. After that startling first onslaught, I very much liked what I heard.

There’s also plenty more for us to experience live after dipping into the streaming goodies we can sample. Still wrote at least four more symphonies after the NY Phil breakthrough, a fairly copious amount of piano and chamber music, and numerous memorable elegies, including one for “The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy” and a “Threnody for Jean Sibelius.”

Following the Poem for Orchestra with Sibelius’ most admired and recorded symphony didn’t sound random, either. Last played at Belk Theater by the CSO and Warren-Green in the spring of 2015, the brassy Tempo molto moderato opening movement made itself immediately welcome, cresting with a grandeur that almost brought me to tears. The delicacy of the Andante middle movement, beginning with waves of pizzicatos and morphing convincingly into an Allegretto scherzo, was also brilliantly calibrated.

Perhaps because those pizzicatos sound so much more vivid in live performance than on recording, the deficiencies of the closing Allegro molto – Misterioso were more apparent compared to the CDs in my library, including the definitive 1997 interpretation by Osmo Vänskä. Parameswaran didn’t push the pace as thrillingly to start the movement, so the big tune from the brass didn’t arrive as majestically in repose. But the orchestra delivered amply on the restless, mysterious aftermath, and the six hammering whomps at the end, half of them spiked with timpani, satisfied everyone.

–Photos by Perry Tannenbaum

Shakespeare Is a Thieving Magpie in Theatre Charlotte’s “Something Rotten!”

Renovated Queens Road Barn is ready for its closeup

By Perry Tannenbaum

Something Rotten

 We are all stupid and silly – and we all love smart-ass musicals that tell us so. That’s the deep message of Something Rotten! Theatre Charlotte’s brash, big-ass extravaganza that’s raising the curtain for the grand reopening of the iconic Queens Road barn.

Yeah, it’s been awhile since a musical opened at our venerable community theatre’s home. That was early September 2019, when Oliver! launched what would have been the 2019-20 season. But COVID-19 shut everything down in early March, before auditions or rehearsals could even begin for Dreamgirls, scheduled to open in late spring. Then a latenight fire in the waning hours of 2020 gouged a huge hole in the theater floor, smoked the ceilings, and fried all the precious electronics – lights, audio, AC, computers – and kicked the company out of their house.

For over two years, while more than $1 mil in repairs, renovations, and new equipment requisitions could be authorized and completed, artistic planning continued while navigating insurance adjustments and jumping municipal hurdles. While the new 501 Queens Road gestated and marinated for more than two years, the company hit the road, resuming production in September 2021 and hopscotching the city to keep Theatre Charlotte alive in Charlotte. The Palmer Building, Halton Theater at CP, and the Great Aunt Stella Center were the first three stops on the season-long 2021-22 road trip.

Now there have been five or six shows at the old barn, in play or concert format, since Oliver! closed back in 2019, including two iterations of A Christmas Carol, a Theatre Charlotte gotta-do-it tradition. But nothing short of a musical, one with an authentic exclamation point yelling out its title, can truly show off a theater’s brand-new bells and whistles – or put them to their ultimate test.

Of course, there had to be some extra drama, an extended drumroll, before Something Rotten! could give the renovated Queens Road barn its much-anticipated relaunch. Scheduled for its closeup last October, the revamped site wasn’t going to be ready for opening night. The 2022-23 season had to be reshuffled, and the wondrous Shakespearean mashup of a musical was postponed.

A construction project. In Charlotte! Can you believe it wasn’t finished on time??

Billy Ensley, after directing the first little musical away from TC’s home, The Fantasticks, now pilots the first leviathan since the company’s return. Three of his mates from that Palmer Building gem back in 2021 are on board with Ensley for this new voyage, all of them playing major roles and all of them delivering.

I was fairly bowled over by the brash irreverence of Something Rotten! when I first encountered this Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick concoction on Broadway in 2016. You might wonder if the Kirkpatricks had the zany antics of The Compleate Wks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) on their minds when they decided to take aim at the Bard of Avon and musicals.

Certainly the methods of their madness can be traced to the Reduced Shakespeare Company – with genetic material from Forbidden Broadway and The Producers also in the DNA. The Kirkpatricks discard the merely dubious ideas that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else, or that his awesome greatness was only fully appreciated after he died. They ignore the reality that there’s only faint, sketchy traces of the man over the course the grand Elizabethan Era.

No, all those tropes are toast. The Kirkpatricks, with John O’Farrell collaborating on the book went full-bore misinformation and alternate reality. Months before The Donald descended the Trump Tower escalator.IMG_2969-2

Shakespeare is no longer a dim peripheral figure on the Elizabethan cultural scene. He’s a full-blown superstar, recognized and wildly adored wherever he goes. Mobbed by his rabid fans, he gives outdoor spoken-word concerts to sustain the mass hysteria.

The secret of the Bard’s genius is revealed. Like the Reduced Shakespeares, Forbidden Broadway, and the Kirkpatricks after him – not to mention The Donald – the real Shakespeare was a thieving magpie. Not only did he steal from ancients like Plutarch and Ovid, predecessors like Chaucer and Boccaccio, and contemporaries like Christopher Marlowe, he cribbed from unknown wannabes and the man or woman on the street.

Case in point: after defecting from Nick Bottom’s struggling theatre company, Will takes his former boss’s name with him and dumps it into A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another case in point: Sniffing out the possibility that Nick is working on something revolutionary for the stage, Shakespeare embeds himself in his former company, where he swipes the complete manuscript of Hamlet from its true author, Nigel Bottom. Because big brother Nick has astutely told him that “to be or not to be” is trash. Not to be.IMG_2417

A hapless mediocrity, Nick is our hero. In his crazed search for the next new thing in theatre, Nick seeks out a soothsayer to look into the future, a rather Shakespearean ploy. The eccentric soothsayer that Nick picks, Nostradamus, turns out to be a genuine visionary, but his inner crystal ball seems to be afflicted with astigmatism. Skipping over the breakthrough artform of opera on the near horizon, soon to be birthed in Italy, Nostradamus is himself amazed to see… a musical!

So powerful is this concept that Nostradamus cannot even say the word without a vatic, conjuring sweep of his right arm. He wants Nick – and us – to see it clearly, too. Nick, poor thing, doesn’t have as juicy a role as the raving Nostradamus, who must convince his skeptical client that such an impossibility can be created, believed, and become universally popular. He’ll be able to bring my play to a complete stop and have my speaking characters suddenly start singing? And he’ll be able to interrupt this blatant interruption with a whole crowd of people dancing? Tap dancing?IMG_2703

Yes, yes, and yes, Nostradamus prophesies, and audiences will lap it up. We do see, for we were living proof of this seeming insanity at the Queens Road barn, just like I was at the St. James Theatre in 2015.

Over and over, the Kirkpatricks reinforce the idea that the road from brilliant concept to acclaimed masterwork is strewn with pitfalls. Nick begins with a colossal misstep, an upbeat number called “The Black Death,” which strives to match Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” in utter tastelessness.

So Nick hurries back to his soothsayer. What will Shakespeare’s greatest triumph be, he asks, determined to beat the Bard to the punch. Pushing away invisible cobwebs between him and the future, Nostradamus proclaims, Omelet, the Musical is the future, confident he’s setting Nick on the right track.

With creditors and prudish censors dogging his way, Nick has ample complications to overcome. The backbreaker is Nigel’s resistance. Instead of sticking to the yolks and the big egg picture, Nigel is spouting useless lines like “To thine own self be true.”

Another Shakespearean device comes into play with little brother, the double plotline. While tasked with writing the world’s first libretto, Nigel is smitten by Portia, the lovely daughter of Brother Jeremiah, the most sanctimonious and censorious Puritan in London. Avid admirers of Shakespeare, both Portia and Nigel can see the parallel between their star-crossed plight and the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, their idol’s newest hit.IMG_3812

Ensley’s eager, able, well-drilled cast of 25 can seem like a teeming city in the confines of a barn, heartily welcoming us to two Renaissances, really, with Nehemiah Lawson as the Minstrel leading the ensemble’s bustling greeting – to the refurbished theater and olden days – when the curtain rises. They can form a credible mob around Will when he struts upon his stage.

Along with such teeming scenes, Ensley and choreographer Lisa Blanton and headshot sketch artist Dennis Delamar can pour in numerous references to familiar, beloved musicals we all know. Explicit references to Phantom, Les Miz, Cats, Sound of Music, and Chess are in the Kirkpatrick-O’Farrell script, but what about the sly nods to Annie, A Chorus Line, The Producers, and West Side Story?

There are more Broadway allusions than I’ve mentioned and still more that I may have missed. Ensley keeps the pace brisk.

Twice cast as Jesus at Theatre Charlotte in past seasons; along with leads in Rent, Memphis, and Arsenic and Old Lace; Joe McCourt steers us through Nick’s sea of troubles. Folks out in Matthews would remember McCourt’s exploits in Bonnie and Clyde more vividly, his first team-up with Ensley. The Arsenic and Old Lace agitation as Mortimer, when McCourt strayed from musicals into comedy, served as a nice precedent for his work here. When he leans away from straight-man chores opposite Will and Nostradamus, and into Nick’s showpieces, McCourt flashes his confident charisma – with comical seasoning – when he fumes “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”

McCourt is no less in command when he brings down the curtain for intermission with “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” though his best soufflé may rise when he greets his troupe for the first Omelet rehearsal, absurdly exclaiming “It’s Eggs!” Yet this wannabe turn is decisively upstaged by the conceited rockstar and the wild-eyed prophet.

Perfectly cast at the Palmer in The Fantasticks, Mitchell Dudas and Kevin Roberge are even more smashing now. Dudas was a wonderfully swashbuckling El Gallo, the beguiling Fantasticks narrator, but he’s far slicker and more self-absorbed here, shining in his wicked showpieces, “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard.” And the sheer arrogance of him when Dudas flashes his Shakespearean smile! You expect little LEDs to twinkle at the edges of his teeth.

Since “The Black Death” is an ensemble slaying, it’s Roberge who gets the killer solo of the night, “A Musical,” indoctrinating McCourt so thoroughly that the conjuring sweeps of Nick’s arm become nearly as prophetic. After his portrait of the more blustery Fantasticks dad, Roberge turns up his leonine energy more than a few notches. And the hair! Far more eccentric than the Einstein in Verizon ads. Think Charlton Heston on top of Sinai in The Ten Commandments.

Matt Howie, the naïf swain from Ensley’s Fantasticks, and Cornelia Barnwell mesh beautifully as the confidence-challenged Nigel and the overprotected Portia. But they’re overshadowed by a slew of quirkier characters who don’t sing nearly as much. Who comes first? Maybe Lindsey Schroeder as Bea, Nick’s proto-feminist wife, who fills out the contours of Shakespeare’s Portia in a memorable courtroom scene.

Certainly Hank West vies for the honor of favorite minor character as the shifty and resourceful Shylock, who remains a moneylender in Shakespeare’s world but transforms into the first theatre producer in Nick’s troupe and the New World. Delamar, our sketch artist and longtime Theatre Charlotte idol, gets props here for portraying a pair of pomposities: Lord Clapham, Nick’s skittish financial backer, and the Judge who must sentence Nick for his trumped-up crimes.

If there’s space for a feminist, a theatre producer, and a rockstar in this Renaissance makeover, there’s also room for a gay preacher and an outré transvestite. J. Michael Beech’s homosexuality as Brother Jeremiah is hardly latent at all as he strives to keep himself closeted with indifferent success, and we can presume that Paul Reeves Leopard as Robin gets the pick of the women’s roles in the Bottoms’ troupe, perennially dressed and simpering for the part.

Brave New World!

If the players I’ve named thus far decided to form a professional theatre company, I’d only be mildly surprised by their audacity. The new Old Barn made them all look good, first with the opulence of Chelsea Retalic’s period costumes – and the stark anachronism of Shakespeare’s glitter. Chris Timmons’ set designs didn’t look like he was working on a shoestring budget, either, indoors or out.

Better yet, the renovated 501 Queens Road facility has remained true to itself, in its lobby and its theater space. In the lobby, there are new, more modern-looking ceiling fans, which sit admirably flush to the upgraded ceiling. There were still extensive lines to the restrooms, so my inspections of the toilet – and the new backstage – must await visits to come.

In the theatre hall, the skeleton of the new scaffolding isn’t fleshed out at all with sheetrock, so the roofbeams are visible all the way to the bricks that meet it at the proscenium wall. More like a beloved old barn than ever! Artistic director Timmons, wearing his second hat as acting executive director, told me that the renovations made it possible to raise the stage proscenium. Yet there was a shower of confetti to climax the finale, where the “Welcome to the Renaissance” melody completes its last rebirth as “Welcome to America.”

Can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I had seen evidence of a functional fly loft at the Queen Road barn.

Best of all, there was a profusion of theatre lights shining in many colors, along with strategically spaced audio speakers. All are discreetly black, of course, so I couldn’t resist taking flash photos to confirm that all this equipment is spanking new. Everything worked flawlessly, including Theatre Charlotte’s soundboard. Nor did I notice any coughing or humming from the heating system. All was bliss, best feet forward, with nothing rotten except the show’s title.

Don’t be shocked to find that Something Rotten! is sold out for the rest of its current run. The show, the production, and the newborn theater are all that good. Timmons & Co. may need to add performances to meet the well-deserved demand.